It would be interesting to see comparable figures for previous years but, despite the unlikely allies they face and apparently lacking the required mandate, threats from dissenting republican paramilitary groups forced 11 serving and former police officers to leave their homes in the last year. According to the BBC report, based on a Parliamentary written answer to DUP Upper Bann MP David Simpson [Hansard link here], “Another police officer moved after being targeted by loyalists. Two prison officers were also affected.” At the Guardian’s Politics Blog Henry McDonald notes the “sheer cold-hearted logic” that the deputy First Minister’s rhetoric failed to address.
Yet the singular shield the dissidents have on their side, even if their campaign is entirely nihilistic, is sheer cold-hearted logic. They can counter, with a certain justification, that what they are doing is only carrying out the “unfinished business” of what the Provisionals left incomplete. They can argue that the union has not been broken; Stormont has been shored up instead of smashed, and British troops are still garrisoned, if somewhat far less visibly, inside what the Provisionals always insisted was an illegitimate state.
Henry McDonald continues
It is worth remembering too, as the dissidents will no doubt point out, that when the Provos launched their war in 1969, they did so not principally out of popular feeling but rather as part of a semi-religious project. As the 1916 Proclamation clearly states in its opening line: “Irishmen and women, in the name of God and all the dead generations … ”
From the blood sacrifice of the Easter rising (initiated at least at the time without popular backing – that came later) to the 1969 uprising in the north, republicans were following an historic imperative rather than an electoral one.
Back in the 1960s, when the flame of violent republicanism appeared to be flickering out, it was kept alive in places such as Belfast through a network of families that regarded themselves as a vanguard or brotherhood tasked with a sacred, historic mission. Circumstances shifted in their favour in 1969 in the sectarian conflagration that was to hand over to this cadre thousands of new, young, angry recruits hell bent on revenge against unionists and the state.
Circumstances today of course do not favour the current generation of republican diehards. Yet given the endurance of their ideology, no matter how out of tune it may be to the 21st century, it would tempting fate to predict confidently that the new dissidents will be comprehensively defeated or that they will heed Martin McGuinness’ advice to liquidate themselves.