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Adrian Ismay casualty of sick battle between 'purists' to be seen as true heirs of 1916

By Henry McDonald

Published 16/03/2016

Other tributes were also left
Other tributes were also left
DCI Richard Campbell speaks to the media yesterday
Adrian Ismay who died yesterday, 12 days after a bomb exploded under his van
A passer-by leaves a floral tribute near the spot where the bomb went off
Other tributes were also left
Other tributes were also left

Unlike Chief Constable George Hamilton, most people in Northern Ireland won't need to wait for medical records to confirm that the death of a prison officer on Tuesday morning was murder.

The majority of the population will immediately hold the New IRA solely responsible for the 52-year-old passing away less than two weeks after he sustained his serious injuries when a bomb under his van exploded.

And although Adrian Ismay's death was linked in a New IRA statement to the ongoing disputes in Maghaberry jail between the prison authorities and dissident republican inmates, most observers, especially those who lived through the Troubles, will see it as part of a wider picture, of a means to ratchet up violence in the run-up to the 1916 centenary commemorations across Ireland.

Their targeting of the officer also underlines again that despite their relatively and mercifully low kill rate, the armed republican dissidents have an intelligence-gathering capacity that reaches well beyond their own areas into loyalist and unionist zones.

The overwhelming majority of those taking part or looking forward to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising will object strongly to any hint or suggestion of a possible link between the rebels who "were out in '16" and the 21st century hardline republicans who target prison officers as well as police and troops in Northern Ireland.

The latters' detractors will point out that eventually the rebel leaders won widespread, albeit retrospective, support in the 1918 general election and created a kind of back-reference legitimacy for their revolt against the British Empire.

In addition, the current critics of dissident republican violence will argue that even someone so dedicated to the cause such as Patrick Pearse decided to surrender to the British less than a week later because he was concerned about the mounting toll of civilian casualties in Dublin during Easter Week.

Yet, from the viewpoint of the republican dissidents, there is a cold, hard logic to their claim to be continuing the "unfinished business" of 1916.

They in turn can point out that the rebels were in fact an armed minority who not only defied the political line of John Redmond's Nationalists but also its military wing, the Volunteers, the majority of whom stuck with Eoin McNeill's order to the force set up to defend Home Rule against Lord Carson's UVF that they should not take part in the rebellion.

The dissidents will remind their critics on the nationalist side today that the insurgents were angrily jeered at by a large number of Dubliners for help wreaking so much death and destruction in a city where at the time many of their sons, husbands, brothers, cousins, neighbours and lovers were fighting in Irish regiments on the Western Front.

The counter-counter argument to this is that Pearse himself, whom despite his obsession with blood sacrifice and Celtic martyrdom, had a much more realistic attitude to the north compared to some other rebel leaders back then.

Part of the reason why there was no so rising of any substance in the north was because Pearse ordered that there be no widespread insurrection in that part of the island, fearing as he did a bloody reaction by the heavily armed and by now, in many cases, battle hardened unionists.

Subsequent "armed struggles" from the Border campaign of 1956-62 to the 30-year campaign of violence by the Provisionals have all failed because they faced a far more immovable object than the British Army alone - widespread unionist opposition to their goals.

Nonetheless, this will hardly prevent the various factions of dissident republicanism from attempting over the next week or so from mounting other murderous attacks across Northern Ireland.

Because their struggle isn't just with the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the officers who man the jails or the police who have successfully put so many of them behind bars of late.

Their "war" is also one of who controls historic legacy; of who can boast about being the true believers, the authentic inheritors of the physical force tradition.

And within these battles are caught the likes of Adrian Ismay and his grieving family, who are denied the basic human right to live for Ireland (whether that be the Republic or Northern Ireland), rather than without any consent whatsoever, to die for it.

Belfast Telegraph

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