05 Apr Northern Ireland: A Fragile Peace
Over a year has passed since the cessation of hostilities brought a fragile peace to Northern Ireland, but despite what Sinn Fein would have us believe, the violence has not ceased, merely shifted focus.
From terrorism against the British Forces, Republican paramilitaries now practice a variation on the theme upon their own people. Or rather, to be more accurate, they have extended the range and breadth of persecution already present. No Catholic was ever safe from falling victim to Republican Paramilitaries simply because they were catholic, but as the paramilitaries expand their community policing role, more and more they are focusing their activities on their own.
The IRA has always regarded the Catholic Estates as their own personal territory, and as the traditional role of ‘freedom fighter’ has been rendered redundant, at least temporarily, they have sought to create for themselves a new role.
They have found that new justification for their continued existence in styling themselves a police force for the Catholic minority. The RUC have never been welcome in the Catholic Estates, for obvious reasons. They were seen as a loyalist force, and there were suspicions that certain of its members were also involved in loyalist Paramilitary groups. Sinn Fein filled has filled this vacuum for over 25 years, since the troubles began, providing it’s very own kangaroo courts system. This ‘court system’ has not always dealt out violence as punishment for the crimes it dealt with, but that has most definitely changed.
The number and severity of punishment beatings in Northern Ireland has increased since the cease-fire, reported incidences in 1994 were 153, up from 93 the previous year. The RUC have no doubt that the number of reported crimes is only a small percentage of the actual total. The reluctance of the victims to come forward is understandable. Fear of further retribution, or the targeting of family members is more than enough to silence most. Also, there is the mistrust with which many in the catholic community still regard the RUC to contend with.
Everyone agrees that there is an urgent need for change in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, even those within the force, but the direction that change will take is unclear. It seems obvious that the name would be the first likely candidate for an overhaul, but there are many who are resistant to this, stating their dedication to the name, and the dedication of their colleagues who have served and died under crest.
Senior SDLP MP Dr. Joe Hendron made a submission to the Mitchell Commission, claiming that Sinn Fein has sent orders to the IRA footsoldiers to step up the beatings in the North. He also provided evidence that the IRA has been hiring members of the disbanded Irish People’s Liberation Organisation as hitmen. The Commission is due to report later this month on the decommissioning of IRA weapons.
Increasingly the IRA is attempting to extend it’s involvement with, and influence over the community. The freedom of the citizens they claim to protect has been curtailed even more so than previously by this expansion, and care is needed to ensure that the terrorists of yesterday do no become the vigilantes and Mafia of tomorrow.
(This article was written in 2003)