Leading article: Failed attacks and primitive politics

Related Topics

An eight-year-old boy picked up what he described as a "golden pipe thing" in the playground of his primary school in Northern Ireland yesterday. It turned out to be a bomb, which, fortunately, failed to explode. The school, in Antrim, was closed and its 400 children were evacuated. Such was the latest triumph for the madness that is Irish paramilitary violence.

There have been 49 bombs planted in Northern Ireland during the past eight months, compared with 22 during the whole of 2009. This year has also seen 32 shootings in the province as dissident republican groups try to put an end to the peace that has prevailed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Their devices have not just grown more frequent but also more reckless and indiscriminate. On several occasions, children have narrowly escaped the terrorists' attempts to target police officers. Most are the work of dissident republicans, though yesterday's may well have been a revenge attack by loyalist paramilitaries.

In this we perceive a grisly echo of Northern Ireland's 30-year Troubles, in which 3,524 people died before the Provisional IRA finally gave up its armed campaign to unite Ireland and engaged instead in peaceful politics.

For some time there have been a handful of violent dissidents opposed to the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing accord which emerged at the end of that bloody period. Among them are former IRA men robbed of their status by peace. More recently they have been joined by disaffected youths on sink estates who have not shared in the new prosperity that peace has brought to much of the province.

Even so, they are a tiny minority. The Good Friday agreement produced new networks of institutions and rules designed to ensure fairness between the two communities. In 1971 the Unionist government, backed by the old sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary, was still predominantly Protestant. Catholics were second-class citizens. That is no longer the case. Nationalists are not alienated from the state. Indeed, the new Police Service of Northern Ireland has a large and growing Catholic cohort. The nationalist sport of hurling is played in the former bastion of Unionist power at Stormont. There is little sympathy among Catholics for the new bombers. There is no water for these sharks to swim in.

Security sources in Dublin suggest that the resurgence of violence is co-ordinated by organised crime gangs to divert police resources away from tackling the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes and the trafficking of drugs. What is clear, however, is that there are few signs of any real strategy in the dissidents' ranks. Their politics are as primitive as their failed explosive devices.

The security services are right not to be complacent. The bombers are growing in expertise and sophistication. It makes sense to be vigilant, which is why MI5 has boosted by one third the number of its agents in the province. Sobering suggestions that Irish bombers are preparing to bring their campaign to the UK mainland during the party conference season have brought a switch of resources from operations against Islamist extremists.

But we should not overreact. Britain's Special Forces reconnaissance group, which is reported to be operating in Northern Ireland, must not be drawn in to another armed confrontation. There can be no question of reviving the heavy-handed tactics that once characterised our response to republican terrorism.

The bombers would like nothing more than to see British Army patrols back on the streets on Belfast. There must be more mature, and ultimately more effective ways of responding to this brand of pseudo-nationalistic nihilism. And Sinn Fein should be at the vanguard of devising them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture