Sooner or later, given the inherent dynamic of sectarian politics in Belfast, an innocent person was bound to be murdered. Nineteen-year-old Gerard Lawlor is the latest victim of the Ulster Defense Association, an organization that was killing people (mostly Catholics) long before he was born. Unfortunately, it looks as if long after he has been buried it will continue its cowardly work, given the so-far passive response from the authorities.
Of course, the UDA would not consider this sordid crime as “cowardly work.” In its claim of responsibility it termed the murder a “measured military response” to republican attacks. So the time has arrived in Northern Ireland when shooting down an unarmed, innocent young man on his way home from the pub is regarded as a “measured military response.” Actually, it arrived some time ago, ever since the paramilitaries started their violent campaigns whose foul deeds they disguised with the language of war.
It is a terrible corruption of language and that means a corruption of people’s ability to see what is really going on. Instead, they pretend it is something else. The authorities, for their part, have recently fallen into the trap and have begun echoing the words of the paramilitary spokesmen. This enables some to legitimize murder as some kind of political act.
The British government’s response has so far not been reassuring. The Northern Ireland secretary of state, Sir John Reid, said that “if violence was not brought under control” things would slip back into the bad old days. At least in the bad old days, pre-peace process, the army and police reacted more aggressively to terrorist attacks and the gunmen, especially from the loyalist side, stood a good chance of ending up behind bars. Not now. Now we have to wait for things to be brought under control. By whom? We know who.
Reid’s words are aimed at what are euphemistically called community leaders — i.e. the representatives of the gunmen, including those who speak for the UDA who carried out the murder. That means, the people have to wait for the UDA to sort out its position on the peace process so that things can proceed smoothly again. Is this not an abrogation of the state’s responsibility into the very hands of those who are threatening the peace?
This line is based on the premise, which grew up with the peace process, that in an internal conflict such as the North’s, the warring sides cannot be forced to reach agreement. But, frighteningly, this has become an excuse for political passivity in the face of naked terror.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Meanwhile, back in the Mother of Parliaments, British Prime Minister Tony Blair gets ready to define what he means by a cease-fire. He will doubtless spell out that it does not mean being allowed to target people, run guns into the country, carry out raids and run rackets. It is a depressing testimony to the peace process that more than four years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, in which all parties linked to paramilitary groups agreed to abandon violence and begin disarmament, that something so obvious has to be spelled out.
No wonder so many people in the North are becoming jaundiced or cynical about where this process is headed.