IRA dissidents renew violence in Northern Ireland

By Christine Graf
April 2, 2009

Megan Pellegrino

Fear was resurrected in Northern Ireland when the Irish Republican Army dissidents killed a police officer and two British soldiers, within a 48-hour time period.

Two former Cabrini exchange students from Northern Ireland, Paul Lilly, a Catholic, and Kelly McKee, a Protestant, have little in common when it comes to government rule in their province, but completely agree that violence is not the answer.

After more than 10 years of peace in the Northern Ireland between the IRA and the British government, a group of dissidents from the IRA has taken action into their own hands and have admitted to the recent killings with no intentions of stopping the attacks.

Northern Ireland is divided between Roman Catholics Nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and Protestants Unionists committed to keeping Ulster, six counties still run by British government, a part of Great Britain.

“The recent killings have certainly created a tension in the province, which I had hoped not to feel again,” McKee said.

McKee, 25, remembers fear from the “dark days,” being evacuated from her house while the British army detonated a bomb on her street, seeing a young man shot in both kneecaps in the city and regularly checking the store she had a part time job in for suspicious packages.

Lilly, 22, also remembers fear, once having his own town bombed in 1998 by the Real IRA, a bomb which killed 31 civilians in a Nationalist town.

Times have change drastically since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, brokered by the U.S. which denounced violence.

“They [the killings] make me very nervous, as I don’t want things to go back to the way things were. We have come a long way and many families have suffered greatly,” Maureen Gormley, 50, a Catholic and citizen of Tyrone County, Northern Ireland, and a mother of three children in their 20s, said.

Gormley was 11 years old when “the troubles” started in 1969. Catholics were discriminated against in employment and housing.

“It was very rare for a Catholic to hold any top jobs,” said.

As a teenager she remembers harassment from British soldiers at checkpoints on the roads, particularly of young men. Teenage boys were hauled off for interrogation and questioning at holding centers, which she described as very frightening for them.

“I do not want my children or future generations to have to live through what we have in the last 30 years,” Gormley said.

Lilly and McKee both speak of peace movements among many young Catholics and Protestants their age.

“Thousands of people are joining together in condemnation and that makes me proud of how far we have come as a country,” McKee said.

The vast majority of citizens want to keep the peace, according to McKee and Lilly. Even former leaders of the IRA and Ulster Defense Association, a Protestant paramilitary group, which in the dark days would choose to retaliate, have instead joined together for peace.

“Like every country which has been torn by war there will always remain some extremists who will not give up their fight,” McKee said.

Overall, the country is still divided in the sense that Catholic Nationalists would like to see Northern Ireland united with Ireland’s other three provinces.

On the other hand, Protestant unionists like McKee, who considers herself a British citizen, feels it is important that Northern Ireland remains a part of Great Britain.

McKee feels that the best way to describe growing up in Northern Ireland as a Protestant is that even today when she sees the Irish flag, tricolor, around town she feels intimidated, and so does her partner, who is Catholic, when he sees the Union Jack flag.

“I hope that as so many people are uniting against these killings, retaliation will not occur. I hope that these people will be caught and reprimanded. I hope, but I fear,” McKee said.

Christine Graf

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