The killings of the past few days have sent waves of anxiety through a community that, though still divided on a number of levels, has no appetite for a return to sectarian violence. The peace process launched more than a decade ago finally delivered a power-sharing government in 2007. But in recent months dissident Republicans have stepped up their efforts to bring it down. Authorities are aware that a heavy response could undermine support for the government and the reformed police service.
The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland’s police service, Sir Hugh Orde, said: “We have consistently said over the last nine months that the threat in Northern Ireland to police and military has increased. You will not see a step change in the policing response simply because of what has happened. We are determined to deliver a normal style of policing commensurate with the threat as it stands, but it is higher than it has been.” The demilitarisation of Northern Ireland was one of the conditions that mainstream Republicans sought in return for laying down, and ultimately destroying, their arms. In coordinated steps, security was scaled down across the region as the IRA disarmed and effectively disbanded. But a small minority of republicans refused to accept the peace process. Poltical analyst Professor Rick Wilford said: “The Real IRA would probably have something numbering in the dozens, maybe up to a hundred members. It’s had very limited success in recruiting, it is relatively poorly armed, its material is limited.” Perhaps the biggest difficulty the marginal groups face is their lack of a support network in the wider republican community. The main fear is of a backlash by pro-British loyalist paramilitaries. Sinn Fein says that is what the dissidents want. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: “It’s an attempt to subvert the peace process, it’s an attempt to bring everybody back to conflict, to bring more British soldiers into the streets, to sideline politicians and we’re not going to let that happen.” Sinn Fein faces a difficult balancing act in calling for support for the police while opposing more troop deployments in Northern Ireland. The party leadership’s position is further complicated by the fact that dissidents regard them as traitors and perhaps legitimate targets.