The heart of summer has long been known as the silly season, a time when the movers and shakers take their vacations and, as a result, little moves and shakes. But for the last several years, the summer has been anything but silly in Northern Ireland. Sad is one word that immediately comes to mind. Stupid is another. The Omagh bombing tragedy that occurred almost a year ago — the work of the Real IRA, a breakaway republican group — embodied both those adjectives as well as a third: tragic.
This year’s silly season is shaping up to be no different from the last. The politicians have may have put on hold such pressing matters as the future of the Good Friday peace agreement while they head off for the Costa del Sol, but for the forces of mayhem and mischief, there is no time to rest. Last Thursday, for example, a 22-year-old Belfast man, Charles Bennett, was found beaten and shot to death behind a GAA club. A couple of days earlier, four Irish nationals had been arrested in the U.S. for allegedly mailing weapons to Ireland. This week, they were indicted in Miami on conspiracy charges.
No one has claimed responsibility for the Bennett murder. And federal authorities have not pointed a finger at any specific group in Ireland as having received illegally shipped arms. But sources close to the cases say the Provisional IRA is likely to have been involved in both.
If that’s indeed the case, it can only feed into the already strong anti-agreement sentiment among Unionist politicians and, increasingly, the North’s Protestant middle class. Not surprisingly, they are pointing to the alleged gun-running operation is an indication that the IRA is determined to procure new weapons. They are saying it is proof the IRA’s cease-fire is, if not already over, will soon be.
Never mind that loyalist violence against Catholics continues. As reprehensible as it is — and as important as it is that police find a way to stop it — it is not a stumbling block for the implementation of the Good Friday deal. But the prospect of IRA violence is another story.
The Good Friday agreement is scheduled to undergo a review next month. It has already been badly compromised — by unionist intransigence and an apparent willingness by the British government to tinker with the arms decommissioning provisions. Still, it remains the best hope for lasting peace in Northern Ireland. In a political climate marked by suspicion and distrust, any IRA activity that can be construed as contravening the principles of nonviolence that underlie the agreement can only be unhelpful.
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