There seems little doubt that the violent scenes witnessed in Craigavon this week were orchestrated by sinister elements, most probably linked to dissident republican groups. While the level of violence was a mere shadow of the mayhem which was once commonplace in Northern Ireland, it was nevertheless deadly in intent.
Shots were fired and at least one blast bomb thrown. These could easily have resulted in death or serious injury.
The dissident republicans have been attempting to raise the level of violence for almost a year. A couple of weeks ago a rocket attack using Semtex failed in Fermanagh when the device did not detonate. Attempts have been made to kill Catholic police officers and prison officers have reported that they have been threatened. The dissident groups are obviously gathering intelligence and setting targets which they think will give them maximum publicity.
While the current political bickering at Stormont between the DUP and Sinn Fein is giving encouragement to the dissidents, it cannot be said to be the cat
alyst for the violence. These groups are opposed to the current political settlement and will continue to mount attacks whether or not the DUP and Sinn Fein come to an agreement over the devolution of policing and justice. What is most important is that the elected politicians from all sides of the community unite in their condemnation of the terrorists and in support of the PSNI.
It is therefore encouraging that a broad spectrum of politicians reacted angrily to the events in Craigavon. They included representatives of the DUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Indeed, the local SDLP MLA, Dolores Kelly, an outspoken critic of vi
olence, was deliberately targeted by rioters who smashed the windscreen in her car and injured her leg. This was an appalling attack and those who carried it out, and those who directed it, should be roundly ashamed of their actions.
Northern Ireland now has the best chance in 40 years of creating a better society for all its citizens. All the major political parties are in a power-sharing administration and there is no section of the community which should feel alienated from it. The violence of the past had its roots in politicial grievances which were then exploited by the men of violence. Such grievances no longer exist and those terrorists who want
to drag Northern Ireland back into the past are largely isolated. They are dangerous, however, and it is imperative that every assistance is given to the PSNI to bring them before the courts.
That is one of the key tests of the new political atmosphere in Northern Ireland. Do people from the nationalist community feel able to give information to the police which could result in terrorists being put in jail? Sinn Fein must continue to make it clear to its constituency that the days of violent republicanism are over and that there should be no hiding place for those whose only agenda is death and injury.
It is important to keep a sense of balance about the recent spate of violence. It is newsworthy only because it is at such odds with everyday life in the province. Northern Ireland still has its divisions, but those are being addressed politically and there is a greater air of confidence about the future than for many a long year. The politicians must make it clear that the small groups of dissidents speak for no-one but themselves and that Northern Ireland is, by and large, a community at peace with itself.