While Rooney believes Northern Ireland has made enormous progress, he says problems remain in “interface areas,” places where Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods border each other and where peace has had the least traction. It’s in these areas that the IFI has begun to focus its attention by “promoting social and economic advance and encouraging contact, dialogue, and reconciliation between Nationalists and Unionists,” he notes. Currently the IFI is seeking financial assistance from the U.S. government and the European Union to fund its work in these areas.
No matter how hard dissident Republicans try to break the peace, Brian Gormally, director of the human rights organization Committee on the Administration of Justice Ltd., doesn’t believe the violent sectarianism of The Troubles will return. While acknowledging the “tragic consequences” of recent attacks by armed dissident factions, he says, Northern Ireland has made great strides over the last decade in the struggle for human rights and equality. “We believe we are basically in a post-conflict situation,” he says “All the major armed groups that were engaged in the conflict have ceased violence, disarmed, and demobilized.”
That’s why Gormally stresses that the PSNI must address the threat from these groups proportionally. “As regards the responsibility of state agencies, we are generally of the view that upholding human rights and fostering participation and political engagement are more effective ways of stemming political violence than emergency powers,” he says.
Gormally says his group is concerned over police antiterrorism powers in Northern Ireland which allow police to stop and question people without reasonable suspicion. He also notes that the perception that 35 Irish Republican dissident prisoners in Maghaberry prison are being mistreated has caused outrage in Republican communities. “We are not saying that these two issues ‘cause’ dissident Republican violence nor that resolving them would make it go away. It would, however, help to build confidence in a peaceful way forward,” Gormally notes.
Sounding a note of optimism, Horgan says Northern Ireland has a tremendous track record of not allowing the fringe to reignite the debate between violence and peaceful politics. “Northern Ireland stands as an amazing case study of how civil society responses to terrorism can actually prove very detrimental to these groups,” he says.