By Anthony McIntyre (for the Pensive Quill)
Omagh is the last venue that armed republicanism might be expected to have put in an appearance. It takes some nerve. There, the levels of abhorrence for the phenomenon are probably higher than they are elsewhere. Its presence is unwanted, its visitation unsolicited and viewed as a deeply insulting intrusion.
Omagh was the site of the largest loss of human life in the country as a result of the North’s violent conflict. As such it would be thought that whatever else it did armed republicanism would balk at planting a bomb there. The town had become a veritable psychological shrine, a place which, because of the horrendous violence inflicted on it, cried out against republican physical force with the trauma spawned words ‘never again’.
Today’s bomb attack which took the life of a young PSNI member outside his home is like similar attacks in recent years, both futile and brutal. The dead man, a 25 year old Catholic, was a mere three weeks out of his training; basically a rookie. The attack was standard copy, the template inherited from the Provisional IRA: an under car booby trap bomb. It was every bit as futile and as callous as the double killing of RUC constables John Graham and David Johnston in Lurgan in June 1997, the last members of the force to have been killed by the Provisional IRA. It was just as wrong.
A bomb in Omagh on a Saturday afternoon conjures up the most terrible of images. The BBC reported that ‘neighbours rushed to help him and some used fire extinguishers to put out the flames from the explosion. He died at the scene.’ That such words should again be written abut Omagh beggar belief. Armed republicanism which has inflicted so much carnage already on the Tyrone town has returned, like a grave wrecker, to desecrate the memory. The term ‘Omagh bomb’ is one that almost everybody believed had been exorcised to the year 1998. Not for the first time has armed republicanism demonstrated its infidelity to sensitivity.
The death of the PSNI member will be a source of consolation to only the fundamentalist few. There are many republicans who do not support the PSNI but who would strenuously oppose seeing it targeted. It will of course be claimed that today’s killing was a blow for Irish freedom. But it is a gross contradiction to talk of Irish freedom if the Irish are unable to be free from the violence of armed republicanism. The people responsible may well be carrying on in the physical force tradition but they wage political violence on behalf of themselves and no one else. Theirs is a war against the national will. Infinitely much more invasive than the British rule they claim to be opposing, it flies in the face of national self determination while masquerading as a defence of it.
Today’s victim is the fourth member of the British security forces to have died at the hands of armed republicanism in two years. It is a miniscule achievement compared to what the Provisional IRA managed throughout most of its campaign. Yet for all their military prowess the Provisionals ultimately secured very little in terms of republican objectives. They now sit ensconced in a British administration at Stormont in full support of the police force their descendants are currently determined to kill. Gerry Adams who for decades approved attacks like today’s was one of the first to condemn the Omagh incident. There should be a strategic lesson somewhere in there for any republican discerning enough to find it.
Unfortunately, while a lesson that has been absorbed by many it will never be learned by all. There will always be some who without any chance of altering the future remain determined to repeat the past.
Ineffectual and immoral, armed republican violence is a scourge that can only deliver blight in place of betterment.