| 15.4°C Belfast

Anthony McIntyre: Low-level yes, but attacks break acceptable level of violence test

Whether the weekend attacks on the Belfast homes of two senior republicans were as serious or as ominous as to merit the amount of news coverage they have received, is a moot point.  They were clearly lacking in the level of fatal intent which took the life of Real IRA figure Joe O’Connor in West Belfast, 18 years ago.

Neither O’Connor’s Provisional IRA assassins nor their political representatives have yet approached the dead man’s relatives to explain the rationale behind his killing. Presumably, like the weekend attacks on homes, there was no logic that can be explained, just a self-serving, self-referential one that cannot be explained. Whether the work of organised physical force republicanism or the hatching of some lone wolf plan, the attacks were certainly without a semblance of political justification or strategic nous.

They occur at a time when there has been an upsurge in politically violent activity by republicans.

While there may be no link between sustained rioting in Derry and attacks on the cenotaph in Newry, insert the volatility of Brexit into the incendiary marching and bonfire season and the North reveals its susceptibility to cyclical downturns, from which it will recover until the next one.

Decades ago the level of threat posed would have satisfied the yearning of many British politicians for what was termed an acceptable level of violence. Today, aided by the coercion poachers having become consent gamekeepers, expectations are higher and the threshold for acceptability has been considerably recalibrated. There is a lesson to be drawn from the men who were attacked rather than the attack itself.

They are now the most robust defenders of the consent principle, having failed absolutely to usurp it. In their day they stormed the walls of consent only to be repelled and transformed by it.

The current republican activity is like a mild breeze compared against that storm.  Like the Provisional IRA, their inheritors too will implode on the rock of consent, their activity as transformatively plausible as a rain dance during the recent heat wave.

If they follow reason rather than tradition, the attackers might yet come to understand that the men they targeted embody a logic: “the failed political entity” is republicanism, not the Northern state.

Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA prisoner, journalist and co-founder of The Blanket, an online magazine that critically analysed the peace process blogs at thepensivequill.am

Belfast Telegraph