Most commentators seem to think that Northern Ireland’s politicians, people and political settlement came through a difficult week with considerable credit. If you haven’t read David McKittrick of the Independent, take a look. I think he remains one of the most authoritative writers on Northern Ireland and its problems.
So who was being attacked? The PSNI and the Army, obviously. On a wider scale – the political settlement and the whole community. My own feeling is that in Northern Ireland the most interesting politics is within communities rather than between them. Many people who were not fond of Sinn Fein could see that the long project of moving their people from violence to politics was an extraordinary feat of political leadership on the part of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. They achieved it without a major split – remember Brendan Behan’s famous remark about the historical tendency of Irish republican movements towards schisms and internal wranglings. After accepting the notes and apologies, the third item on the agenda of any republican meeting, said Behan, was ‘The Split’.
So small groups of dissident republicans are – sadly – almost inevitable. Part of what they were attacking was the movement of mainstream republicanism into politics. So the strong words of condemnation from Sinn Fein leaders are an attempt to make sure that the partition between mainstream and dissidents doesn’t move.
So the best that can come out of a dreadful week is a strengthened understanding of people right across the community that they have much in common and much to lose.