Leading article: A confused and messy state

Share

Northern Ireland is not in the tumult it once was, but as the troubles subside its affairs are in a confused and messy state, with political progress elusive and terrorism transmuting into crime.

Although politics is moving glacially slowly, some paramilitary groups are currently evolving quite quickly. In the case of the IRA the authorities are encouraged by its general direction, though worried about its underground financial empire. Other republican and loyalist groups have been winding down their violence but concentrating on money-making activities.

It was always clear that the unwelcome corollary of dwindling political violence would be a rise in gangsterism, and this process is under way. Smuggling and financial crime is rife, with some in authority speaking in almost admiring terms of how speedily some criminal gangs can adapt to changing circumstances.

Activities similar to theirs go on in cities in Britain, but the additional Northern Ireland factor is that many of those involved have a paramilitary background. They are therefore more feared and more formidable. The IRA is a more complicated piece of work since its behaviour is key to prospects for political advance. Talks are to open in Belfast next week, and it is to be hoped will carry out valuable preparatory groundwork. But Ian Paisley, Unionism's kingpin, will not go into government with Sinn Fein until the IRA's game plan becomes clearer. He insists - and for once it is difficult to argue with him - that there should be no government until it is crystal clear that the era of IRA illegality is over. A Paisley-Sinn Fein coalition would clearly not be a marriage made in heaven but it is, for better or for worse, decreed by the relentless political arithmetic to be the only way of restoring devolution.

Republican activity has been dramatically wound down, but the key question is whether the IRA intends to go all the way or whether it hopes to maintain, as discreetly as it can, a certain amount of criminality. This week an official report into paramilitary activity acknowledged that huge strides have been made. Next week Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain will attempt to persuade Mr Paisley to ready himself for government. The hope is that the next report, due in April, will show that the IRA really is intent on putting itself on the right side of the law, thus paving the way for a genuine political breakthrough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
George Osborne  

Blowing your pension was never a very sensible idea

Andreas Whittam Smith
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn