THE MAGAZINE

Return of The Troubles?

By Matthew Harwood

Between 1969 and the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, more than 3,600 people were killed in Northern Ireland in a period known as “The Troubles.” The Irish Republican Army (IRA) fought Protestant Unionist paramilitaries, the British Army, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in an attempt to free Northern Ireland of British rule. Though nothing can erase the legacy of hate and hurt, the peace has lasted for nearly 14 years.

Now dissident groups that never signed on to the accords threaten to change that, according to researchers John Horgan, director of Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, and John F. Morrison, of the University of East London’s School of Law, who published a paper in the academic journal Terrorism and Political Violence. The two studied recent dissident activity and found that both the level and type of attacks have been increasing.

“Though large scale terrorist activity has been relegated to the past, an escalation of low-level terrorist activity by Irish Republican splinter groups has recently reached its highest level in 10 years,” the researchers write. Among the breakaway Irish Republican terror groups, known as “the dissidents” (characterized by their refusal to sign up to the 1998 peace accord), are the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, which began to reassert themselves through violent acts in 2009.

The violence that year inaugurated a worrisome trend, according to Horgan and Morrison. Before 2009, the worst year for violent dissident Republican (VDR) activity was 2001, when 55 attacks occurred. In 2009, the number was 91. Then came a surge in VDR activity in 2010. The attacks numbered 185, an increase slightly over 100 percent.

The growing use of bombs by VDR groups also made the trend more destructive and frightening. According to Horgan and Morrison, there were 73 dissident bombing incidents in 2010, up from 24 in 2009. Bombings have continued into 2011.

One attack attributed to dissident Republicans entailed a one-pound bomb attached under the car of Constable Ronan Kerr of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The explosion killed Kerr, who was clearly the target. The bomb “was probably detonated by a tilt switch, which is set off by movement,” the BBC reported.

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