The announcement late last week that Britain was dispatching an additional 2,000 troops to the North is just one reminder that despite the recent hopeful developments there remains a tremendous potential for mischief, one that the rejectionists of the peace process are only too eager to exploit.
The troops will be in position ready to respond to any crisis that might be provoked by the Orange marching season, now in full swing.
The summer is always a time of tension throughout the Six Counties, as frustration grows over the seemingly endless Drumcree standoff that has kept at bay Portadown Orange marchers. In an attempt to heighten that tension, this year the Portadown Orangemen are holding two Drumcree parades, instead of the usual one. Fortunately, after being blocked by the parades commission, the first effort passed relatively quietly, at least compared to previous years. But the Drumcree Orangemen’s call for mass support for next Sunday’s parade is yet another indication that they are intent on pursuing their march to nowhere, at whatever the cost. How long will it be before the law-abiding element of the Orange Order — that is, the majority — gets weary of this intractable and unreasonable element within its midst that continues to bring discredit on the organization?
Undoubtedly, the recent getsure by the IRA in opening its arms dumps can be credited for taking some of the heat out of the usually fraught summer. But the diehards remain refusing to accept the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people.
Dissident republicans exploded a bomb on the main Dublin-to-Belfast railway line, which, according to one report, "tore in apart." The attack, which disrupted rail service is being seen as a challenge to the IRA, one of whose strongholds is South Armagh, the scene of the explosion.
It is an echo of the bad old days of the Northern Troubles, when the rail link was a favorite target. The attacks made no sense even then. They make even less sense now, except as a reminder of the inanity of people who call themselves republicans and espouse unity between North and South and yet try to break one of the real links that binds the two sections of Ireland together.
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Recent events, however, have made it evident that hardline republicans are far from being the only threat to progress in the North. Dissident loyalists calling themselves the Orange Volunteers threatened to murder two GAA officials in the South Derry area. Then in the early hours of last Wednesday morning, in Belfast, a loyalist gang began smashing property in an adjacent Catholic neighborhood, provoking a response from the IRA, which opened fire on them as they fled.
In other words, the witch’s brew of violence is still bubbling away in the Six Counties. The ingredients remain: sectarian bigotry and militaristic stupidity. The two are actually close allies and always have been. Without the kind of sectarian hatreds that lead one section of the community to attack the other, those who claim to "defend" the minority would never be able to find justification for their stance. But the unfortunate history of the North shows that loyalist sectarianism creates the very thing it fears most — support for violent republicanism. The only way to end this symbiotic relationship in the long term is by creating a society in which Catholics can feel secure and equal.
In the short term, that means the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, including the Patten Report on policing.