Belfast Telegraph

Threat of dissidents is still a major issue

Editor's Viewpoint

It is two decades since the Good Friday Agreement was signed and endorsed by an overwhelming majority across the whole island of Ireland. It was hailed then as one of the most important documents signed in the history of Northern Ireland, bringing to an end 30 years of bitter conflict and promising a better, more inclusive future for society here.

All that optimism has been blunted over the years and the current political vacuum is an indication that politics here can only work with goodwill on all sides. But what the relative peace of the past 20 years has done is thrown into sharp relief the senselessness of continued dissident republican activity.

Yesterday marked seven years since Catholic PSNI officer Constable Ronan Kerr was killed by a booby trap device planted by dissidents. It was a heinous crime which only served to underscore the nihilism of the dissidents. They proved they could kill, but for what end?

It was the same in Londonderry yesterday when youths attacked police marshalling an illegal dissident republican rally. The violence was obviously pre-planned, given the number of previously prepared petrol bombs used to attack police vehicles. Again, it was violence for the sake of it. If they had succeeded in seriously injuring or killing any police officer, what purpose would it have served? All this violence achieved was momentary images of blazing Land Rovers.

Those images give a totally false impression of life in Northern Ireland. The dissidents are small in number - if fanatical in purpose - and have only marginal support. It is encouraging that Sinn Fein's northern leader, Michelle O'Neill, denounced the violence and said those responsible must be brought before the courts.

Yet she knows that as long as the impasse over the restoration of devolution continues in Northern Ireland, the dissidents will see the vacuum as an opportunity to continue their campaign of violence and ferment division.

The frontline job of tackling the dissidents is a policing matter and the Chief Constable's task is not made any easier by continuing budgetary restraints. He needs the appropriate funding to enable his officers to confront the dissident republican groups and bring them to justice if they break the law.

Meanwhile, the politicians need to emerge from their silos and implement the Good Friday Agreement as it was meant to operate.

Belfast Telegraph

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