Noel McAdam: Murders could help galvanise the Northern Ireland Executive
The shootings demonstrate how far the province still has to travel
In all probability the dastardly attack which cost two young soldiers their lives, and seriously injured others, will help to galvanise the Stormont power-sharing administration.
As a grim reminder of the dark days we all thought had been consigned to the past — and a full 14 years after the last ‘successful’ republican terrorist operation against Army personnel — the Massereene massacre attempt both crystallises the extent of Northern Ireland’s transformation and exemplifies how far the province still has to travel.
The political fall-out from the pizza delivery outrage is uncertain but there is no doubt it presents a challenge to all parties and the system they are still attempting to breathe momentum into.
In the shock and pain of the hours following the killings, parties could perhaps be forgiven for slipping into automatic rhetoric mode. Yet the response so far shows that, unlike the last dispensation, the main parties have yet to achieve the recognition of each other’s needs.
David Trimble and Gerry Adams worked hard on this essential element of peace processes to the point that the Sinn Fein president felt able to invite the then Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister to his holiday home.
Though they have worked intensively to filter through the backlog of business still facing the Executive, the First and deputy First Minister missed an opportunity by failing to appear together to condemn those responsible, as Lord Trimble and Seamus Mallon did (though they were not yet in office) after the double Poyntzpass murders in March, 1998.
While they had not planned to travel together to the US, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met yesterday at Stormont. It was understandable they delay their stateside trade mission, but it will also be notched up as another ‘achievement’ by the terrorists.
In the short term, the attack could also undermine the on-going efforts to achieve the devolution of policing and justice. Mr Robinson last week said he believed support for the switch-over of powers was growing: would he say the same now? Or will the DUP use Massereene to argue for further delay in the fear of the attack bolstering Jim Allister.
Yet at the same time the attack, and the bitter row which preceded it over the use of special reconnaissance soldiers to gather intelligence, makes securing the handover of policing responsibility all the more important to Sinn Fein. The republican media operation is the slickest of all the parties, yet it took almost half a day for the first reaction to emerge and it failed to straightforwardly condemn the incident.
At worst, the attack could drive a wedge into the Executive where tensions and fault-lines between all the parties, but Sinn Fein and the DUP in particular, remain.
The deaths and injuries of Saturday night represent its most serious test yet. The political importance of the days ahead cannot be underestimated.