MINNEAPOLIS – (MintPress) – As cities across the United States dye their lakes in hues of shamrock green, and parades float by to the strained sounds of “Oh, Danny Boy,” 34.7 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. But do they really know what is happening in Ireland?
Irish Americans have desperately clung on to all aspects of the Irish culture from speaking a fews words of Gaelic, Irish dancing, to even kissing the blarney stone. Nostalgia has clouded and distorted Irish Americans’ view of their homeland — a home that is still deeply divided by religion; a home that continues shed blood on the street; a home that continues to be two countries — that’s Ireland today.
Parades that are not Green, but Orange
St. Patrick’s Day in Belfast has not always been a fun-packed day of drinking Guinness and enjoying parades; often St. Patrick’s Day has been hijacked by political factions who have turned a family day into scenes of anarchy and mob violence. This year’s event will be closely monitored by the police as tension still remain after recent riots in Belfast.
Violent scenes of gun shoot-outs, rubber bullets and water cannons erupted on the streets of Belfast, after a series of Union flag parades that pro-British Protestants and Orange Men staged through the Catholic streets Belfast. The waving of the union flag and slogans of British rule sparked of a series of violent riots in December 2012 and January 2013. The effects of these riots continue to devastate fragile communities in Northern Ireland during this time of peace.
Last week, Newtownabbey was the latest city to erupt in violent. Hundreds of youths threw bricks, snooker balls and petrol bombs at hundreds of riot police at the point where Catholic and Protestant areas of the city meet. Police responded with water cannon fire. At least 10 gunshots were fired at police lines, but no police officers were injured.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers condemned the violence saying, “this is totally unacceptable … The actions of those involved were shocking.”
“It is totally unacceptable that policemen were injured as they went about their duty protecting the whole community.
“These protests must come off the streets and allow Northern Ireland’s political leaders to work together towards a resolution.”
Police have said “a very small minority intent on causing disruption and harm” were behind the violence. None of the injured officers needed hospital treatment. The premises of a health and safety business that was petrol bombed was badly damaged — almost all the windows were blown out.
In a statement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said an investigation into the violence was underway. Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Mark Cosgrove said a union flag protest, which had been held in the area earlier, had been peaceful. Alliance Party Councillor John Blair said: “I wholeheartedly condemn the actions of those involved in violence. There is no place for this unacceptable behaviour in our society.No doubt the people who caused what looked like a planned outbreak of violence had a clear intent to disrupt community relations.”
The 1998 peace agreement paved the way for a power-sharing government of loyalists (Protestants) and nationalist (Catholics). During this time violence has subsided, but police say the threat from dissident groups opposed to the peace deal is higher than at any time since it was signed. Recent riots in Belfast show the level of tension growing between the Nationalist protests for a united Ireland and the Loyalist’s protest to stay in the union of the United Kingdom. Some dissent groups are acting as if there is not peace deal.
The New IRA
A new Irish Republican Army faction in Northern Ireland claimed responsibility for its first killing and defended the bloodshed as a necessary act of vengeance. The group, a merger of factions that brands itself as simply the IRA, said in a statement to the Irish News that its members shot dead David Black because he worked as a guard at Northern Ireland’s top-security Maghaberry prison, where about 40 members of IRA factions are imprisoned. The inmates have protested for more than a year against a policy of strip-searching them in search of weapons, drugs and cell phones. They have previously threatened to kill off-duty guards.
Black, 52, was shot as he drove to work on Nov. 1, 2012. He was the first prison officer killed in Northern Ireland since 1993. The group that claimed Black’s killing was formed in July by the merger of three anti-British splinter groups who still pursue violence in Northern Ireland. The merger represented an effort by breakaway IRA members to mount a more coherent campaign of violence against Loyalists and their so-called puppet masters, the British.
In the latest bomb threat, Derry Police thwarted a major terrorist attack on a police station, discovering four primed mortar rockets which were ready to be fired. Three men were arrested in connection with this latest bombing episode.
Security sources said that two of the men were major players in armed dissident republicanism.
“This is a major coup against the New IRA,” one security officer said.
“This pair are key operators in Derry and the north-west. This would have been one of the biggest operations dissident republicans have organised and the fact it was thwarted is a big blow to their morale alongside the loss of personnel and weaponry.”
These worrying developments are pushing Northern Ireland back into the violent years before the peace agreement. The bombing tactic has caused the British government to review the security so that bombing doesn’t occur in England. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he does not want to put troops back in Northern Ireland. It is clear that this bombing campaign is bringing back an age-old argument on whether Ireland be a united Ireland..
United Ireland — who really believes this?
A recent survey by the Northern Ireland Life and Times looked at the issue of a united Ireland. It revealed the latest political attitudes toward the province’s constitutional status. Overall, it found a large majority, 73 percent, in favour of staying inside the UK.
Most significantly, the poll of 1,200 Northern Irish citizens revealed that 52 percent of Catholics favoured the union with Britain rather than a united Ireland. In a further blow to the hopes of a united Ireland advanced by the likes of Sinn Féin, only 4 percent of Protestants want Irish unity.
These poor statistics have not stopped Sinn Féin campaign to start a fresh attempt to put a united Ireland at the top of the political agenda. Believing there is widespread support for the power-sharing settlement of a united Ireland, the New IRA are looking to old leaders to help with the cause. Former MP Gerry Adams and other Sinn Féin figures with alleged connections to the IRA continue to steere the republican movement out of the cul-de-sac of the armed struggle.
Given the stark economic challenges facing a near-bankrupt Republic, unity is a far-off prospect. It seems that the dream to unite Ireland is forcing Northern Ireland back to the old days of sectarian violence and distrust of Catholics and re-fighting a old nostalgic dream of Ireland.
So as St. Patrick’s Day celebration of all things Irish kicks in over the weekend, just spare a thought for the homeland, the real homeland.