Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Irish Peace process is in trouble ...

So what else is new, may well be your response to that header. Nevertheless, the problems in Ireland - not just Northern Ireland - are a lot worse than anyone who relies for information solely on the UK mainland media is likely to realise.

My in-laws were born in Ireland and subscribe to Irish newspapers. When we visit them, as someone who can rarely see any reading material without browsing it, I usually take a look. I am astonished that recent events on the other side of the Irish Sea have not received more attention on this side.

During a recent attempted armed robbery in the Irish republic two of the attackers were shot dead by Irish Police. The Gardai gave warning before opening fire. One of the dead men was armed, his gun was loaded but it was not fired. Each of the dead men was killed by a single bullet through the heart.

I have no reason to believe that the police officers involved in this tragic incident acted other than correctly, and I have far more sympathy with the officers who will have to live with having killed in the line of duty than with the criminals who died as a result of their own actions.

If such an event had occurred North of the Border before the cease fire there would probably have been a torrent of "Shoot to kill" accusations against the RUC. This time, if anything, much of the commentary appears to have gone over the top in the opposite direction. Some politicians and journalists seem to have almost implied that the killings were a good thing to "send a message". It has also been alleged that one of the dead men had carried out "robberies to order" for the IRA.

Meanwhile the independent commission on disarmament in Northern Ireland has reported that the IRA has continued to recruit and train paramilitaries and buy new weapons since the cease-fire.

While the British government fails to take effective action about this, it is as unsurprising as it is unfortunate that brave moderates like David Trimble and the SDLP have been sidelined in both communities by hardliners like Paisley. If firm measures are not taken soon against extremists on both sides, the present ceasefire may prove merely to have been an opportunity for the paramilitaries to regroup and rearm. I hope I am wrong but I have a terrible fear that we are sleepwalking back to tragedy.

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