In the wake of recent Brexit talks the possibility of a no-deal trade deal looking ever more likely, questions have been asked about Northern Ireland and the border. The arrangement in the current Withdrawal Agreement means there would be no physical border instead a border is effectively placed within the Irish Sea. This is what lead the DUP to condemn the deal and seek its renegotiation which meant that for once, all of the political parties in Northern Ireland agreed on an issue; the current deal will not do.
The population of Northern Ireland have been very wary with Brexit as it could lead to the resurgence of terrorist groups such as the ‘New’ IRA. On the 18th August 10 members were arrested in a cross-border initiative from the PSNI and the Gardaí, with 1 arrested in Heathrow Airport. The PSNI estimate that the ‘New’ IRA have between 150-300 members with Forbes in 2014 stating that the group have an annual income of $50million from drug-related activities, alongside funding from sympathisers in the US and other countries. The recent arrests show that the threat from dissident republicans are very real and their illegal activities are ongoing.
More than two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, MI5 are still focusing a large portion of their resources on thwarting dissident republican activities. One of their most recent exploits was the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead in Derry by a ‘New’ IRA gunman while observing a riot. The current threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland related terrorist attacks is at SEVERE, which means an attack is highly likely at any moment. The level has remained the same since the EU Referendum showing the UK government acknowledges the level of dissident republicanism and yet routinely ignores that threat when discussing possible border infrastructure.
In 2018, 30 so-called ‘punishment shootings’ or ‘knee-capshootings’ were carried out by the ‘New’ IRA to instil fear and show the ability of the group to operate outside of the PSNI’s operations. The political wing of the ‘New’ IRA is called Saoradh (“Liberation”) which has routinely called for the end of the ‘illegal occupation’ of Northern Ireland and has recently stated that violence is inevitable on the island as a result of Brexit. Their leadership is composed of ex-IRA and Sinn Féin members who hold violent and socialist views and see Sinn Féin as ‘false prophets’ and claim both the Northern Irish Executive and Dáil Éireann as illegitimate.
Over the past 4 years since the referendum Northern Ireland has been treated with contempt by the Tory Government in Westminster. Prominent Conservative front bench MP’s such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove have previously stated that in the case of no-deal that no one would ever erect a border; suggesting that both the UK and Irish governments would be happy to leave a backdoor into both their countries unprotected. Boris Johnson has also stated that their will be no checks on GB-NI goods, we now know this is be a lie.
Northern Ireland does not have many friends within the UK either with the SNP and their leader Nicola Sturgeon routinely criticising both the old (Backstop arrangement) and new deal which gives the province access to both the GB internal market and the EU single market. Sturgeons stance has infuriated many across the island as they question her awareness of both the Good Friday Agreement and its commitment to frictionless movement across the border.
The recent arrests of top members of the ‘New’ IRA and a recent flair of republican ideas come as no surprise to the Northern Irish population. They knew this was coming and that all it takes are a handful of people who feel disenfranchised with the current status quo to turn violent. The Troubles started that way and so has the current BLM. As someone who comes from a border town and former IRA stronghold it will not be long before people will start to look over their shoulder again. Unfortunately, the population of the province can do is hope that MI5 and the PSNI are well equipped to deal with as Saoradh chairman Brian Kenna said,“the inevitable violence”.