British troops tighten security vise on Ulster
The real issues here go much deeper than the flying petrol bombs made from milk bottles, the stones, and the answering plastic bullets of the security forces that followed the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Being tested now more sharply than at any time in the last decade is the future of Northern Ireland's relationships with London and Dublin, the cohesiveness and identity of the 1 1/2 million people here, and the effectiveness and popularity of the Provisional wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army itself.
In a deeper sense, the British government is under heavy new pressure to go beyond containing current violence. It is being challenged anew to come up with workable long-term ideas to ease 60 years of intermittent bloodshed and fears generated by a bitterly controversial partition of Ireland, both physical and in men's minds.
Total deaths since 1969 alone amount to 2,096 at this writing, including that of Mr. Sands and 1,498 other civilians.
Many thoughtful analysts here believe that the underlying tragedy of the Bobby Sands affair is that it has hindered and delayed the search for solutions at the very moment when prospects had seemed to be more promising than for many years.
Notably at risk: the current joint studies of new institutional arrangements between London and Dublin. These studies, the most visible outcome of last December's surprise meeting between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Irish counterpart, Charles J. Haughey, are threatened by nationalist pressures building on Mr. Haughey.
Mr. Haughey is already in deep political troubel in the Irish Republic. Polls indicate he could well lose the next election, expected to be held later this year. Since the Sands death early May 5, he has been deliberately cautious in public; his dilemma is that he wants to avoid antagonizing Prime Minister Thatcher while still appeasing nationalist ire at home.
If Mr. Haughey attacks Britain "for letting Bobby Sands die," he alienates Mrs. Thatcher; if he is booted out of office for ineffectiveness on Northern Ireland as well as the state of the Irish economy, more delay would follow while the new prime minister (most likely Garret Fitzgerald of the United Ireland Party) takes stock of the London-Dublin talks.
At this writing IRA violence on the battered, rock-strewn streets of West Belfast was being successfully contained under rainy skies.
Home television screens tend to heighten the sense of conflict by focusing on the bombs and anger, but in fact, security forces have achieved their aims, so far at least.
Their job is to make sure that riotng is confirmed to Catholic areas in Belfast and within limits in Catholic-majority Londonderry.
Prolonged rioting in Belfast May 5 saw youths tipping over cars and buses and burning them, volleys of petrol-filled milk bottles and rocks, some rioters seizing pneumatic drills to rip chunks of barricade material from the roadway, at least four people injured, and 14 schools closed.
But by early evening, Catholic anger had not spilled over into Protestant areas.
A senior police spokesman told the Monitor that violence so far had "been intense" but that it had been contained. The situation remained "volatile."
Sands' coffn will attract large crowds in West Belfast before the May 7 funeral. The Provisional IRA has called for a national day of mourning, with Catholics throughout Ireland staying away from work to mark the funeral. An IRA spokesman told this correspondent that success would be measured by the number of people on the streets for the funeral.