After 13 years, Catholic faith in the Good Friday Agreement wears thin

Spend time in Coalisland near the shores of Lough Neagh and it is easy to forget you are in Northern Ireland.

There are eight Gaelic football and hurling clubs and children attend Catholic schools and learn Irish. Attendance at Mass is higher than many parts of the Republic.

Thirteen years ago today, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, it was a very different place: there were British soldiers and armoured personnel carriers, a sign that this corner of the North was a hotbed of IRA activity. That has changed. But recently Coalisland – considered to be the embodiment of the "peace dividend" – has shown signs that Northern Ireland still struggles to put the troubles behind it.

Earlier this month, police discovered a cache of guns, detonators, explosives and parts for rocket launchers. They were linked to the murder of the young Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr four days earlier on 2 April. More worrying still was the reaction of some in the community to the killing. "He joined the police, so what does he expect?" said one man on hearing the news. Not everyone is prepared to forget the past.

For some, the dividends from the IRA ceasefire, the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin's involvement in policing have not delivered what was promised. They believe that Sinn Féin is no longer being true to republicanism and that they must continue to carry the fight to "the Brits".

Coalisland has played a colourful part in the history of The Troubles. The area's staunch republican outlook dates back to the Easter Rising in 1916, the first ever civil rights march in 1968, a constant culture of being stopped by the RUC and UDR at checkpoints and a night that ended with the parish chapel in flames after the killing of four IRA men by the SAS.

Francie Molloy, a Sinn Féin councillor and Mid-Ulster MLA, was a steward at the civil rights march and says he understands why a residue of resentment for the British government and forces still exists in the area. "That night when we were coming home after the civil rights march, people were looking forward to joining the IRA," he said.

Most people in the area were broadly sympathetic to the peace process and the Omagh bombing did much to dampen the appeal of dissident republican groups. But as time has gone on, and people have seen Sinn Féin leaders joining government with Ian Paisley's still hated Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), resentment has grown.

Locals who were members of Sinn Féin have left the party in favour of republican societies.

A former provisional IRA member from the area, who spent 10 years in jail for IRA activity, believes the set-up does not allow for any opposition, and that Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have deserted the party's grass roots. He says he would be one of at least 100 men in the area imprisoned for IRA activity since the 1950s.

He argues that Sinn Féin is no longer the republican, socialist party it once was and is angry it is in coalition with the DUP. He condemns Constable Kerr's murder, but says he knows why it happened: "An armed campaign is madness. But I do believe at certain times people have the right to use force. I wouldn't be shocked if another policeman was killed."

There are also the economic problems. Unemployment has risen 5.8 per cent in the area in the past year. This is significant because boredom led young men to join the IRA in the past.

The day after the killing of Constable Kerr, a local parish priest, Father Benny Fee, based his sermon on the murder. "You would have heard a pin drop," he said. He also pointed out that 20 years ago there could have been a walkout by the congregation. However, Father Fee does accept that anger and resentment still resonates in the area. On Easter Sunday, Sinn Féin will hold its annual Easter parade but the breakaway republican societies will hold their own events. The elections on 5 May will show if Sinn Féin has lost a significant amount of support in the area.

However, as the former IRA man pointed out, those who oppose Sinn Féin have no alternative party to go to, so their views are not represented in Stormont. And therein lies the problem in the Coalisland area and for so-called dissident republicans as a whole.

Constable Kerr murder

Police investigating the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr charged a man with terrorism offences last night.

The suspect, 33, is accused of possession of firearms and explosives with the intent to endanger life and possession of articles likely to be of use in terrorism.

The suspect will appear at Dungannon Magistrates' Court, Tyrone, on Saturday.

He is the first individual to be charged. Two men, including a 26-year-old arrested in Scotland, were freed "unconditionally" on Tuesday by detectives investigating the murder.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz