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Involvement of teenagers in these cult gangs points to a design fault in peace process

By Henry McDonald

Published 20/07/2015

While masked men took over the streets up in Derry on Saturday morning, about 80 miles away in Lurgan, not far from the Belfast to Dublin rail link, two bombs were being put in place designed to entrap and kill police officers.

As the dormant Irish National Liberation Army assembled in tribute to Peggy O'Hara, the mother of hunger striker Patsy, operatives in the very active Continuity IRA were setting up a 'come-on' to lure police men and women to their deaths.

Although the former incident was a case of paramilitary pageantry - a throwback to a time when the INLA posed a real threat to peace whereas the foiled Lurgan double-bomb attack was a very live attempt to murder and maim - both events had something in common. They each involved large numbers of young people, many of whom were probably not even born at the time of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires 21 years ago next month.

It was surprising to see so many youthful-looking people in black berets, dark glasses and masks marching in military step beside the coffin of the late independent socialist republican election candidate in Derry. More so in fact, because the INLA was meant to have decommissioned nearly a decade ago.

Later on Saturday down in Lurgan, PSNI officers seeking the first bomb reported by telephone earlier on Saturday to the Samaritans faced a second front on the streets. As they tried to evacuate houses, unaware about the existence of the other bomb which later detonated, the police came under attack from a crowd of youths hurling petrol bombs and bricks. Those throwing missiles at the PSNI contained youngsters born long after the 1994 and 1997 ceasefires.

The presence and willingness of so many young people in the cult of paramilitarism is surely worrying, as were the numbers of loyalist teenagers and pre-teens rioting in Belfast last week.

That's because it points to a serious design fault in the peace process, the two major peace agreements of our time and the power-sharing settlement at Stormont. Namely, the inability to take an axe to the root of historic traditions that between 1969 to 1994 caused so much slaughter, damage and division.

In Lurgan the Stormont Education Minister and local Sinn Fein Assembly member was absolutely correct yesterday when he denounced the attempted ambush-bombing of police in his home town. He pointed out that the majority of people including those who vote for him in ever increasing numbers oppose such actions. Yet the movement his party grew out of invented the 'come-on' tactic during the Troubles and more crucially, that same party lauds and celebrates such actions in the past when police officers, soldiers and so many ordinary civilians lost their lives.

Such a stance opens up the space for those teenagers dressed up in paramilitary garb in Derry or risking their fellow citizens' as well as their own lives taking on armed police on the streets of Lurgan to advance a brutal but crystal clear argument: if it was good enough for you back in the day then why not us?

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