Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Only Way To Defeat Dissident Republicanism Is To Build a Shared Future

Following the recent shootings of police officer Stephen Carroll (48) and British Army personnel Mark Quinsey (23) and Patrick Azimkar (21) there has been much debate in the media and wider political circles on how to deal with the threat posed by anti-peace process or dissident republican groups that support violence.

Some have spoken of the need for greater security measures and a ruthless response to the threat. With some, including the egocentric Jim Allister MEP , even calling for the SAS to be deployed. Meanwhile others urge a more cautious and progressive approach.

Talk of sending in the SAS is pure folly. It would be a regressive and disproportionate measure that could throw us back into the dark days. Politicians need be careful in what they say as well as do. Backwards and provocative rhetoric employed by people like David Simpson MP can inflame, destabilise and threaten the very essence of everything that people have worked hard for over the past number of years. To encourage 'ruthless' response to the threat is reckless and nothing more than typical political posturing from the DUP.

Any response to the dissident threat must not be reckless or it could prove counterproductive. Any response must not undermine community confidence in the PSNI, undermine the measures that created accountable policing and undermine the process of demilitarisation that has been central to normalising society in the North.

Adopting a cautious and measured approach to dealing with the security situation is vital. The recent riots in Lurgan, following the arrest of prominent republican Colin Duffy, warn of this. The type of gung-ho measures, promoted by the likes of Jim Allister, could only serve to aggravate the situation.Dissidents will seek to exploit any reponse for maximum PR, fueling their propaganda and helping to act as a recruiting tool for them.

During the past week or so I read an article by Kevin Toolis regarding the ideology of dissident republicanism. It was a very interesting piece that posed a few hard questions for decision makers. How can we defeat a radical and fundamental ideology similar to that espoused by the likes of Al Qaida? It is a difficult task that can only be achieved by winning the battle for people’s hearts and minds.

Toolis talks of dissident republicanism as a determined and ancient political doctrine that has survived for nearly a hundred years, sometimes in incubation and at other times raising its head to commit indisputable acts of barbarism such the Omagh Bombing and the recent shootings.

It has survived in the dark corners of people’s minds and in the impoverished estates across the North. Here it is regrouping and taking hold in the psyche of another generation of young people. It is thriving in those poor and dilapidated areas that have not overtly benefited from the new political dispensation, and in the people who are too young to remember the terrible times of the Troubles.

An important lesson that the Troubles taught us was- that those people who are susceptible or vulnerable to the influences of violent political extremism tend to be disenfranchised young men from the poorest of socio-economic backgrounds. This is true of the young men who rioted and created make-shift road blocks recently in Lurgan. These people are alienated from the peace process and the benefits that it has brought.

I believe it is not political ideology that primarily drives the recent events in places like Lurgan, Craigavon and Massereene. Political dissent is a related component but only in the sense that it is the visible symptom of the wider underlying problem of poverty and social exclusion in republican areas. Political dissent is a by-product of poverty and riots, instability and support for dissident republicanism the bedfellows of disenfranchisement and social exclusion.

On the contrary to what David Simspon et al may think - if we truly want to build a peaceful society and tackle the threat of dissident republicanism - we don’t need draconian or ruthless security measures. People must not forget that over zealous security arrangements were a major aspect in sustaining the Troubles and the feelings of isolation and oppression felt by many in the nationalist and republican family. We must not forget the lessons of the past in this respect.

I support the PSNI in their work and in their efforts to bring these people to justice. But security responses alone are are not enough and if we want to build a better and brighter future, a peaceful and egalitarian society we as a society must invest in our young people. We must tackle social exclusion and poverty in the run down estates of the North and give young people a future that they can believe in.

Strong social responses, through socio-economic regeneration and education initiatives, in impoverished areas of the North are vitally needed in order to address the malign influences of isolation, disenfranchisement, social exclusion and poverty- the catalytic ingredients of dissident support.

Only by addressing these fundamental issues, in areas such as the Drumbeg Estate, can the war against the dissidents ever be won. By giving young people a viable alternative and a reason to buy into society we can strangle the dissidents' support base. Young republicans who support dissident groups can be brought into society through measures that foster social inclusion and address the sense of disenfranchisement and oppression felt by many of them.

Violent dissident republicanism has no place in our society and the recent protests across the North show that the vast majority of people just want to move on with their lives and build a better, peaceful future for themselves, their children and for society as a whole. So let’s give young people, from places like the Drumbeg Estate, a viable alternative, a stake in society and investment in their futures. Only by doing this, will society be able to move forward.

We owe it to Stephen Carroll, Mark Quinsey, Patrick Azimkar and the thousands of people who were killed or injured during the Troubles to move forward and create a better society- one that is based upon mutual respect, commitment to democracy, adherence to the principle of consent and a dedication to creating a better life for our children.

Together we can build the Shared Future that we all need and aspire towards!

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