Political violence has no future
The recent murders of two soldiers and a police officer have brought Northern Ireland back to a place it has been before. If two soldiers and a policeman had been gunned down in the manner that occurred last week in Antrim and Craigavon thirty years ago it would have been news for a day and then consigned to the history of the Troubles.
If it happened in 1989 the same would have been true. The life of a policeman or a soldier, or indeed a civilian, was seen as expendable because of the ‘conflict’. That is the sad fact of our history.
While the public outcry of shock, sympathy and sadness is to be expected the political reaction has been different. On previous occasions when the vicious few imposed their will on the democratic many there was not a united political response and its absence contributed to further death and destruction.
The dissidents aim to subvert our still young democratic arrangements, damaging political stability and the peace it reinforces. But in the face of this all parties measures up and produced a stand which saw new heights of political consensus. It is a sign of the political maturity of our politicians and our new political system that what occurred here in the North in recent days was universally condemned by all sides of the divide, including the Irish and British governments.
But of course the most surprising aspect of the reaction was the strong and unmistakable condemnation of the murders by Sinn Fein. In particular the trenchant language of the deputy first minister in branding those involved, namely the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, as being “traitors to the island of Ireland”. Strong words indeed from Martin McGuinness, a former supporter of the armed struggle.
In the face of such outrageous attacks it would have been impossible for Sinn Fein to avoid condemnation of these acts. If you accept the PSNI, then you must condemn the violent activities of the dissidents in the most forthright terms.
But let us remember that there are many victims from the past who recent events have touched in a different way. They will feel stabbed yet again with the sense of futility of their loss and will be hurt by the memory that they were denied the unanimity of condemnation and resolve that the bereaved families of this past week have met.
Therefore, we must be wary as we discuss what has happened and the response it has provoked that we do not create false differentiations between the nature of the crimes that have been committed in this past week and those that were visited on people in the past.
For the generation of our young people who have grown up in peaceful times and were not alive during the worst of our troubles we must make it abundantly clear there is no difference between murder then and murder now. There has always been a democratic alternative available long before 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement.
And our young people whom the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are seeking to recruit need to know that the lesson of Monday night is that the real patriots serving the peace of the new Ireland, were Constable Stephen Carroll and his colleagues, who went to answer the call of a woman in distress, not those who brutally murdered him.
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