Belfast Telegraph

Images of dissidents damaging

Editor's Viewpoint

It was always likely that the Easter Rising centenary celebrations would be hijacked to some extent by dissidents who seem to have learned nothing about the futility of physical force republicanism in the past 100 years.

However well intentioned the official celebrations organised by the government of the Republic to mark the seminal event in its creation - and those celebrations won praise from Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for their inclusive nature - they also provided a platform for darker forces to make their presence felt.

No matter how the Easter Rising is explained or the nuances of Irish history explored, the simplistic message that keeps coming through is that the use of arms helped the Republic to gain its independence and that republicans who still take this blinkered view are merely the descendants of the men who took over the GPO in Dublin on Easter Sunday a century ago. Hence we saw demonstrations involving masked men taking place in Lurgan, Coalisland and Londonderry. The message from those demonstrations was clear - armed republicans haven't gone away, you know.

These - and other smaller demonstrations in Belfast - were menacing, especially coming so soon after the murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay, who died several days after a bomb partially exploded under his van.

That is the reality of how those who organised and took part in those dissident demonstrations see the future. They believe they can bomb or shoot their way toward Irish unity, a concept that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of people on both sides of the border. The PSNI decided to take a relatively soft approach to the demonstrations, preferring to gather evidence rather than confront people in the commission of illegal acts. It is an approach that creates a certain unease among the law-abiding community and which will only be accepted if the evidence gathered at those marches through videoing and other means results in arrests and prosecutions in the coming days and weeks.

At a time when the eyes of the world were on Ireland and its centenary celebrations, it is unfortunate that the most striking images in some respect were those of masked men parading on the streets of Northern Ireland.

The concern would be that potential tourists and investors will have seen those images and wonder if Northern Ireland really is a worthwhile destination. We know that it is, but at a time when terrorism is a global concern, we could have done without seeing dissidents on the march.

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