i’m going to be doing some work this week to prepare a presentation for the new england historical association’s spring conference. i sent in this really clever looking proposal in january to talk for 20-25 minutes about bobby sands as a key figure in the (re)construction of irish republican nationalism at the end of the 20th century. god, it sounded so clever when i wrote that proposal. and now, of course, i have to make good and actually make the presentation and some notes and something to actually talk about.
ah, well, these things happen, right?
but that’s not my point. my point is that, over the last three or four days — say from the last saturday in february to the first monday in march — there have been several stories about violent attacks in northern ireland. at least one man died — or was killed, depending on how you like to frame these things; no-one in the actual country seems quite sure yet as to what really happened — and a police barracks was attacked.
i want to go on record right now by saying that i’m not arguing that any of these things are good or defensible in any way. i think they’re probably explicable and understandable but that’s not the same thing.
what i also think is not good or defensible is the automatic leap i have seen being made in the news sources i follow from the uk…which are, for the purposes of full disclosure, chiefly the times, the guardian, the independent, and various subsections thereof, as well as gerry adam’s semi-official blog although adams has not commented on the events of recent days. in any case, there is an automatic jump being made here from “attack” to “sectarian attack,” or, even worse, “dissident republican attack.” there isn’t even any attempt made to justify the reasoning that takes the journalist from “attack” to “dissident republicans.”
now, i have to say that the odds are very high that, yes, in fact, dissident republicans — probably the continuity or real ira or some combination of the two (which is an unpleasant, but possibly inevitable, concept) — are behind the attacks. this is particularly likely in the case of the attack on the police barracks. historically speaking, the paramilitary republican (catholic) community has been much more strident about the entrance of catholics into the police service of northern ireland (psni) than the unionist or english communities. there are a whole raft of reasons for this, but you can basically boil it down to the fact that, for some republicans, catholics going into the psni are traitors to years of painful community experience. the psni (the modern name for the police service) has long been a bastion of unionist/english power, often deployed violently and cruelly against catholics in northern ireland. the conclusion “good” catholics should draw is, therefore, considered to be obvious by some.
regardless of the obviousness of the conclusion, however, i feel that the conclusions being drawn are evidence of a long tradition of blaming violence in northern ireland on republicans regardless of the actual perpetrator. this sort of thing gives the unionists a golden chance — which they have already, in the reporting on monday, march 1st — taken full advantage of, to cry innocence and load more blame on their republican counterparts while the “legitimate” republicans, on their part, have to scramble to claim innocence and/or shift the blame onto “dissident” republicans.
this isn’t a productive cycle of events. it’s familiar; it’s easy; i imagine it might even be comfortable — in an uncomfortable sort of way — for all concerned at this point. but it sure as hell isn’t going to get the political system in northern ireland any closer to true devolution of powers from westminster to stormont any time soon.