Sunday, December 23, 2007

Omagh Revisited

I hope this won't be my last post before Christmas, but I do want to say a few words about the news that Sean Hoey, the only person to have been accused and brought to trial for Northern Ireland's 1998 Omagh Bombing, has been acquitted of charges related to the Omagh bombing and many other terrorist activities. The Real IRA's August 1998 attack in a busy market center of nationalist Omagh was the single most brutal terrorist attack during the entire period of Northern Ireland's Troubles. It also lingers as the last major attack and the one that caused the Real IRA to announce a cessation of violence. The most disquieting aspect of the acquittal is the fact that it was necessitated by incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the authorities, particularly the police. Not at all surprisingly, the public response has been outrage at those officials who effectively assured that the victims of Omagh and their families will never see justice done.

The fact that the peace in Northern Ireland has held for nearly a decade is too easy to take for granted. Not too long ago the Troubles seemed every bit as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet the fear is that Unionists, and particularly the paramilitaries that claim to speak and act for the unionist community, will use the acquittal as a pretense to re-engage in their own terror campaigns. When people discuss terrorism in Northern Ireland, they tend to think in terms of the Irish Republican Army and Nationalist violence. But the reality is that in Northern Ireland Unionist paramilitaries operated independent of the formidable power of the state, which itself stacked the decks against both the Nationalists and the Catholic minority.There is no doubting that the IRA was a ruthless, thuggish organization. One need look no further than Omagh to realize as much. But the IRA did not operate in a vacuum, and it was not alone in perpetuating Troubles that I hope we will continue to reference in the past tense despite the recent reminder of how that past is not so distant.

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