Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

We are sending our kids on the road to nowhere

Children parading around dressed in paramilitary garb is a worrying sign for future, says Brian Rowan

The kids on the march in north Belfast were sent out in the most unusual of Easter outfits. Remember these are meant to be the children and the generation of a new peace; the story of Northern Ireland's new beginning.

But at one of the many Easter Commemorations, this one in Ardoyne, the photograph shows them stepping out in black berets, dark glasses and gloves.

It is a grim, depressing, pathetic reminder of the old ways – certainly not an image from a brand new day.

The caption on a republican website reads: The young paying tribute to Na Fianna Eireann.

But we are looking at kids born long after the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement – children who witnessed nothing of the wars of the '70s, '80s and '90s.

And yet the photograph shows them stepping out on a very old stage and in a very old play.

It can't have been their decision. They are far too young to understand any of this.

And what is the path they are being asked to march on and where will it lead?

The wars are meant to be over – but for some they are not.

That event in Ardoyne was organised by Republican Network for Unity (RNU) – one of a plethora of groups in this fractured community.

In a separate Easter statement it presented an analysis of the period since the Good Friday Agreement, an assessment it gave within the frame of partitionist politics, old policing/security and a failed Sinn Fein strategy.

"The revolutionary army was destroyed, disarmed and disbanded at the request of unionism," it said. "However, revolutionary republicanism is far from dead.

"While heavily armed British police and soldiers defend their political wing in Westminster and Stormont, armed republicans are defending Irish sovereignty on our streets and in our fields."

The words describe a huge gap between the Sinn Fein political project and the thinking of others in the republican community.

And some of those others still believe in armed actions.

In Lurgan at the weekend, that threat was again seen and heard.

A bomb – placed inside a bin and clearly designed to catch police – exploded, but no-one was hurt. These are the fine lines between what the dissidents would term success and failure, and the Chief Constable Matt Baggott has again warned of a severe threat.

"There is competitiveness between these groups at the moment which is completely irrational but could end up in a very real tragedy indeed," he said

During the past month there have been five planned attacks.

In Derry mortar bombs were seized and arrests made.

A car bomb was abandoned in Fermanagh, which the faction, Oglaigh na hEireann, claims was destined for the hotel which will host the G8 Summit later this year.

In Belfast, a mortar bomb was aimed at a police base but failed to launch, and in a separate incident officers were lured into a trap but a device only partially detonated.

Then, there was the bomb in Lurgan.

The finest of lines separate what the dissidents would term success and failure – the margins between life and death. There is a determination to kill – and in some of the Easter words and actions there was a reminder from the small dissident groups that their wars are not over.

Police are investigating a video showing an armed man firing shots at a mural in north Belfast; yet another rewind into the old days and old ways.

What you won't hear from the dissidents is any explanation of the armed actions – what they think can be achieved.

And this was something Gerry Kelly – a one-time senior figure in the IRA – touched on in a scathing critique of the different factions.

"Let me say this loud and clear and proudly to this alphabet of organisations – there is only one IRA, one Irish Republican Army.

"These other wannabe groups trying to claim that title have no strategy to speak of otherwise they would be presenting it to the world," he continued.

"Whether they call themselves the New IRA, the Old IRA, the Belfast Continuity IRA, the Limerick Continuity IRA, RAAD, CAAD or SAD – a name or title does not give them legitimacy."

Kelly's Sinn Fein party colleague Declan Kearney used different words, but the message was the same: "No republican has the right today to use armed actions or militarism to undermine the peace process."

The dissidents – ONH and the new IRA coalition – know there is an offer to talk, but still believe they can be heard in their use of bombs and bullets. And in this continuing play, we are watching some very dangerous street games. It is not just about the armed attacks – but the other scenes on this stage, including youngsters attacking police in Derry on Easter Monday.

What if one of them is seriously hurt or worse?

And what happens beyond the street marches and confrontations?

Where are these young people going?

Could some end up in armed groups and in wars that will achieve nothing?

Could some end up in jail or in an early grave?

These are the realities of this journey, and those who can't or won't leave their war stages need to think about the children of the peace.

They will be the losers in these no-win games and plays that are continuing long after the ceasefires and the political agreements.

The wars are over and those who continue with armed activity know the futility of those actions – and know where they are leading others.

That journey is into another dark place and period.

'These children are too young to understand any of this or where it will lead them'

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk