22 August 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The bomb which exploded in Co Fermanagh near the main Clones-Cavan road on Monday has created ominous reverberations.
Echoes of the dark and not-too-distant past and a troubling prediction of what a post no-deal Brexit landscape might portend for our Border region were audible within the detonation, responsibility for which has been laid at the door of dissident republicanism. The sound was answered with emphatic condemnation from across the political spectrum – these answering calls made clear the distaste among all right- thinking sections of our communities for the actions of those whose form of expression remains the bomb and the bullet. But this commentary, too, carried with it unsettling reminders of a recent past when acts of terrorism and their repudiation were part of the daily cycle of the outworking of the Troubles.

Monday’s sinister, calculated and cowardly act thankfully claimed no lives or inflicted no injury. But the men and women of terror still made their point and had their say, reminding us that they have not gone away and were possessed of a renewed eagerness to step out of the shadows once more. Combined with other recent attempts on the lives of policing personnel in Northern Ireland, and the bonfires of hatred and intolerance that blazed in Derry’s Bogside and Tullyally, and in Newry, Co Down, recently, the terror act at Wattle Bridge had sound and fury that cannot be ignored.

Our Border communities have never been complacent about peace. Since the cessation of the Troubles, the freedoms and interactions and beginnings of prosperity that started to flow have never been taken for granted here, and there has always been a lively awareness that the peace garden needed constant tending – and weeding.

Security forces on both sides of the Border have kept their vigilance high, and there have been enough incidents of recidivist loyalist and republican sectarianism and violence to ensure that those policing the peace have been kept busy.

It may have seemed to the more distant watching world that the peace that descended on our island was an absolute thing, but those living here, particularly those negotiating the practical realities of partition that remained a feature of their daily lives, knew that the peace that had come to us, although welcome and precious and bestowing many advantages, was still a fragile flower requiring constant tending and nurturing.

The continuing political impasse at Stormont, and the belligerent careering by the British Government towards the prospect of a no-deal Brexit that appears to have gained momentum with the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, have conspired to place the peace we enjoy in its most precarious place since the Good Friday Agreement.

The timing of the Wattle Bridge bomb was no coincidence. Terror prospers when there is a democratic vacuum. And those who practice it must be relishing the ever stronger prospect of physical manifestations of the Border reappearing as the consequence of the UK departing the European Union without a deal.

On the evening of the Wattle Bridge bomb, RTÉ’s nostalgic Reeling In The Years programme revisited 1990, and one of the news stories reprised concerned the bomb attacks carried out by the IRA at security checkpoints near the Border in Derry and Newry on October 24 of that year, when civilians were forced to drive cars packed with explosives to the targets. Six soldiers and one of the civilians were killed and numerous people injured.

To view the historical footage so close to contemporaneous reports of Wattle Bridge and the latest machinations of the Brexit saga, in which the return of frontier infrastructure is now being increasingly spoken of as an inevitability rather than a remote possibility, would have been a deeply unsettling experience for the people of our circulation area.

The joining of the mental dots provides a very clear picture of a very undesirable future. How long would it be before any physical infrastructure to reappear on the Border for purposes of Customs control became the focus for disaffection and protest, then security presence, and then destructive violence? “Not that long”, would seem to be the answer supplied by Wattle Bridge.

Monaghan Co Council Cathaoirleach, Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus Coyle provided an accurate assessment of the mood of people living along the Border in the aftermath of Monday’s incident – they were, Councillor Coyle told this newspaper, both frightened and angry.

Fear and anger are oft regarded as destructive emotions. But in this context they are appropriate and motivating – any return to the deployment of violence for terror objectives along the Border is justly something to be fearful of and to be angry about, and that these feelings should come so strongly to the fore expresses the clear will of the vast majority of people in this and neighbouring counties on both sides of the Border that such times should never be allowed to return.

This in turn should motivate those with political roles to play to bring renewed urgency to the so-far futile efforts to restore the Stormont institutions. And the power of these emotions should also be brought to bear on the British political establishment who seem hellbent on a Brexit stratagem that would seriously jeopardise the preservation of peace.

Boris Johnson no doubt foresees for himself a storied place in the annals of British political leaders, as the man who brought his country out of the constraining corset of the European Union and into a new age of global trading prosperity. If it were impressed upon him that the course of action he is committing his country to might well carry with it the legacy of renting asunder the Good Friday Agreement and plunging Northern Ireland back into a dark sectarian abyss, would it stay his hand and make him rethink his brinkmanship over the backstop?

We will see. But those who ignore the messages contained in the reverberations of the Wattle Bridge blast on Monday will undoubtedly do so at their peril.

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