A sudden resurgence in killings by IRA breakaway groups in Northern Ireland has experts worried that as the local economy falters, youth could once again be drawn into violence. Almost a decade of relative peace was shattered by the shooting deaths of two British soldiers outside army barracks in Antrim on Saturday, followed by the brutal killing of a police officer on Monday.
While the scale of the operations surprised many, there have been rumblings of violence recently from the Real IRA, which claimed responsibility for the attack on British soldiers. (The second killing, which took place in Craigavon, was claimed by Continuity IRA, another IRA breakaway group.)
In November, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported a litany of attacks by the Real IRA—known for the horrific Omagh bombing that killed 29 in 1998—including bombings, shootings and an assault on a republican politician. It warned that the Real IRA “is a serious and continuing threat,” and in January, experts defused a 140-kg car bomb attributed to the group. Just before the most recent attacks, security forces increased the threat level from “substantial” to “severe.”
In response to the killings, armoured vehicles have replaced police cars in some areas and security roadblocks have returned. But John McGarry, Canada Research Chair in nationalism and democracy, worries that if the British response is too heavy-handed, it could play into the hands of extremists.
Nevin Aiken, a research fellow at the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies in Irvine, Calif., says many fear that as the country’s economic growth falters, unemployed youth might turn to paramilitary groups. Ireland has already entered a profound recession, he says, and that “doesn’t bode well for what’s coming down the line.”