During the month of March authorities in Northern Ireland has been on higher alert than normal, concerned that the 100th anniversary of the Irish uprising against British rule would cause numerous attacks throughout the country. Security has been tightened and police presence beefed up in many places. Authorities are concerned that splinter groups from what was once the Irish Republican Army will target police, prison officers and soldiers. Concerns were particularly raised after a car bomb incident early in March led to the death of 52-year old prison officer Adrian Ismay. Soon after the car bomb attack the Police Service of Northern Ireland deemed the threat from dissidents to be severe, meaning that an attack is highly possible. The New Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the bombing incident, which was apparently targeting officer Ismay for his part in training officers working at the Maghaberry Prison where several republican revolutionaries are currently being held. In the weeks leading up to, and following, the attack of prison officer Ismay police patrols were increased across the country.
To understand the current situation perhaps it is helpful to consider the recent history. A 28-year long conflict known as “The Troubles,” in which nearly 3,600 people died, came to an end with the Good Friday accord in April of 1998, following a truce reached in 1997. The conflict was between pro-British Protestants and Catholics who favoured reclaiming Northern Ireland from British control and unifying it with the republic of Ireland. With the peace agreement the IRA split up, which led to the creation of fractions, some of them opposing the Good Friday agreement and considering it a betrayal of the revolutionary spirit. This historic conflict seems to be causing feeling of resentment still today. The New IRA is the latest iteration of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). With the Good Friday accord a disarming of the PIRA was planned. A significant portion of the PIRA disagreed with the disarmament, which has led to yet more splinter groups attempting to take the IRA mantle. One of the splinter groups is the Continuity IRA (CIRA) which broke off in 1986, and is responsible for a high-profile shooting at a boxing weigh-in in Dublin on 5 February of this year.
It is no wonder some have raised concerns about a potential increase in violence as it is still fresh in memory of many, that when the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising took place in 1966, Northern Ireland saw an increase in violence which only three years later resulted in the start of “the Troubles”. According to one of the former PIRA prisoners a new all-Ireland network has been formed for republicans, which promotes a unification and regard the Good Friday accord as a sell-out. The continued presence of the republican revolutionary spirit was evident on Easter Eve, 26 March, when a parade in a Northern Ireland town was headed by masked men, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, reportedly linked to the CIRA. The CIRA is typically one of the fractions that opposes the political settlement in Northern Ireland, in which political party Sinn Féin shares power with unionists. As Easter weekend has come to an end we are left to wonder if the authorities of Northern Ireland can relax their tightened security and return to a threat alert closer to normality, or if the rest of the year 2016 will indeed be characterised by worry and concerns about more upcoming attacks targeting people of the authorities in protest or to mark the centennial of the rising.