The general confusion characterizing the political situation in the UK is likely to increase even more, due to a series of developments in Northern Ireland that do not bode well. A few days ago came a statement from a prominent former member of the Real IRA about the danger of a return to armed “resistance” if some form of hard border is set up between the two Irelands.
John Connolly, a former volunteer for the Provisional IRA and spokesman of the RIRA—but who nowadays, after serving several jail sentences, claims he no longer supports armed struggle—has said he was certain that armed republican groups would move on to strategies of mass recruitment if a remilitarization of the border were to occur. Even the mere presence of CCTV cameras would be perceived as a provocation and as symbols of “a foreign occupying military force.” That would be equally true if the EU were to install similar control infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the Saoradh movement, which has become the most controversial among the nationalist-republican political groups in the area after last summer’s riots and the bomb placed in front of the Derry courthouse on January 20, is complaining of violent intimidation and continued acts of repression on the part of the police. While many consider them, despite their denials, to be the political arm of the dangerous New IRA, the members of Saoradh are no strangers to being targeted for arrests on dubious grounds.
The latest such case involved Alan Lundy, one of their most prominent members, who was stopped and arrested, possibly unjustifiably, during an MI5-led operation. He was accused of belonging to a paramilitary group and of being a member of a commando squad that raided a house in North Belfast last Friday. However, his defense lawyer was able to provide not only a strong alibi, but also CCTV video recorded at the time that placed him 40 miles away from where the incident took place.
The tensions run much deeper than these not-so-veiled threats to the peace that still reigns, for now, in Belfast and the surrounding area. Another issue that is stirring controversy is the selection of the new chief of police, with Sinn Féin hoping that someone might be chosen without ties to any of the two sides, while the unionists claim to be offended by the very idea that—in a break from precedent—someone could be picked from outside the unionist community. Looking at the numbers, only 10% of those in leadership positions in the Northern Irish police are from a Catholic-Republican background.
Complicating the picture even further was the letter sent by the Electoral Office to several Northern Irish citizens that raised the possibility that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, people who have chosen to get both an Irish and a British passport—a right enshrined by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement—might be denied the right to vote. After the first protests by Sinn Fein, the administration claimed the letter had been sent in error—however, this is yet another symptom of the climate of uncertainty regarding the future status of some of the citizens of Northern Ireland, and the looming risk of a return to the condition of second-class citizens, like in the dark years of the conflict.
Brexit might indeed lead to making the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement inoperable. However, this is an international treaty sanctioned by the United Nations, and it does not provide for the possibility of exemptions that are not approved by both sides.
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