Gun attack on policeman deepens political tensions in Northern Ireland

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DUBLIN — As if political tensions in Northern Ireland weren’t bad enough, Irish Republican Army die-hards unwilling to accept their side’s cease-fire appear determined to make matters worse.

An off-duty police officer is in hospital in a critical condition after being shot several times at close range Wednesday night as he coached a youth football practice on the outskirts of the Northern Irish town of Omagh. No group claimed responsibility, but politicians from all sides agreed that one of the small IRA splinter groups still active in the U.K. region must be to blame.

“The people behind this attack think they’re at war. Well they’re not,” said Colum Eastwood, the moderate Irish nationalist leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. “Their fight isn’t with any government, any police service or anyone else. It’s with the people of Ireland who have chosen peace. And it’s a fight they will never, never win.”

The last time any of the IRA factions killed a Northern Ireland police officer was in 2011, again in Omagh — also the scene of the deadliest attack of them all, when a Real IRA car bomb killed 29 people in 1998 in hopes of wrecking that year’s Good Friday peace accord.

The largest Irish republican paramilitary group, the Provisional IRA, killed nearly 300 officers as part of its own 27-year campaign of shootings and bombings, but laid down its arms in 1997 and surrendered them to foreign disarmament officials in 2005.

That key peacemaking step, required as part of the Good Friday deal, ultimately helped persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to end its opposition to power-sharing and finally form a unity government in 2007 with their Irish republican enemies in Sinn Féin, longtime partners of the Provisional IRA. However, last year the DUP collapsed their coalition as part of its campaign against post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, a dispute that U.K. and EU negotiators have spent months trying to resolve.

Wednesday night’s shooting brought back grim memories from a generation ago when such violence was a nightly occurrence, an era when militants effectively filled Northern Ireland’s prevailing political vacuum with bloodshed. The Good Friday pact and the cross-community government it spawned were supposed to keep such violence at bay.

With the Stormont parliamentary building shuttered amid Brexit fallout, politicians from all sides briefly spoke with one voice on social media to condemn the officer’s attackers.

“Those responsible for such horror must be brought to justice,” said Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, who has been in the post only since September.



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( With inputs from : www.politico.eu )

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