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04/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Northern Ireland Attacks Unite Region's Politics

Two deadly attacks on Northern Ireland security forces in the past few days have raised fears that the province may be returning to an era of violence. Two British soldiers were shot dead over the weekend, and a police officer was killed Monday. The Irish people are now asking of their leaders, "What now?" All eyes are on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and former IRA commander Mark McGuinness, who have denounced the attacks and promised the tragedies would not affect the peace process, reports columnist Paul Bew of The Times.

Thus far that leadership has felt able to condemn the attacks of dissident republicans. But there are two fiendish complications this time. First, the target is the British Army not the local police force. Ideologically speaking the dissidents have now challenged Mr Adams in a way the murder of fellow Irishmen would not have done. This is a decisive moment in the history of the "Brits Out" mentality in Northern Ireland.

But McGuinness stood steadfastly with Protestant and Catholic leaders today in a stunning display of unity against the IRA dissidents, reports the Associated Press.

Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, who long hoped that slaying police officers would help him achieve his dream of a united Ireland, stood shoulder to shoulder with his Protestant partner atop the government, Peter Robinson, and Northern Ireland police commander Hugh Orde.

The scene itself was an unprecedented surprise. More stunning were the clear-cut words from McGuinness, whose Sinn Fein party has faced years of outside pressure to embrace British law and order. He pledged his personal support to the English police chief, and demanded that his own police-loathing supporters abandon their traditional code of silence and expose the IRA dissidents in their Irish Catholic communities.

Earlier today, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams expressed discontent at the re-employment of British Special Forces in the province as a result of the killings, Bew wrote.

Sinn Fein are not passive players in this crisis. This atrocity in the Protestant heartland of Antrim will shake the Unionist community but it will not destroy support for the current settlement. What would destroy it would be a sense that Sinn Féin did not fully support policing in the Province and instead sought to garner political advantages from the crisis.

Mick Fealty, a blogger for the Telegraph, writes that the downfall of Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams could come as a result of the crisis.

In Martin McGuinness at least, Sinn Fein's equivocation regarding the active presence of the British Army in Ulster is coming to an end. And that could spell the the beginning of the end for Gerry Adams.

In his blog, Gerry Adams wrote that he viewed the killings as direct attacks on the peace process and took a strong stand against the killers, vowing that they must be stopped.

The political institutions, the peace process and Sinn Féin are as much a target of the perpetrators of Saturday nights attack as those they killed or injured.

That is why they have to be resisted. Politically. Democratically. Peacefully. They want to destroy the hard won progress of recent times. They cannot be allowed to succeed.

Fealty, also one of the lead bloggers on the Northern Ireland blogging site Slugger O'Toole, agreed with Adams that the IRA offshoots must be stopped and republicanism upheld.

Within the Republican community, those who are against armed struggle must make their voices heard. The peace process for all its faults has provided the political space to advance republicanism or at least its ideals. If republicanism is not dead, now is the time for the political alternative to stand up and offer a different way. A return to armed conflict and a bloody feud within Republicanism is not the answer.

Times columnist David Aaronovitch believes the shootings at the Massereene Barracks wasn't designed to get the British Army out, but bring it back.

The shooting wasn't designed to get rid of the British Army; it was designed to bring it back. It was the first atrocity in a desired new cycle of attacks, arrests, martyrdoms, bombings, internments, hunger strikes, funerals, orations, gun-runnings and crying children, which could return us to the Seventies, the golden time of death and certainty.

What do the Real IRA actually feel the compulsion to kill for? They have the vote, the right to speak, the right to argue. There are no B-Specials, there's no more job discrimination, no more gerrymandering.

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