When Lonely Planet last week named Belfast as one of the “hot” places for 2008, it may have spoken truer than it knew. Police and government in Northern Ireland are bracing themselves for a possible summer of violence, as a low key bombing campaign by IRA remnants gathers pace. The Dublin-Belfast rail line and summer houses of prominent Unionist supporters have already been targets – and, of course, hardware stores.

Hardware stores? Yes, B&Q – the British equivalent of Bunnings – has already been hit, as have sports stores and toy shops, and a branch of the ominously named Homebase was destroyed at the end of October.

According to the Continuity IRA who took responsibility for the attacks, the stores sold “kitchen fittings” to British troops, a vital cog in the military machine presumably, in a posting with the worst food in the Western world.

The reason for the CIRA’s new attack is not hard to find – it’s the extraordinary deal between Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley’s DUP which will see the anti-papist shouter emerge as Northern Ireland’s first minister, with Martin “never-was-an-IRA-brigade-commander” McGuinness as his deputy.

To those who want to continue the armed struggle, that’s the equivalent of having Mel Gibson MC your bar mitzvah – whereas Sinn Fein/IRA proper see it as the penultimate stage in their strategy of winning through sheer demographics – making sure that Sinn Fein is the major Catholic party on the day the population ticks over for an RC majority on side of the border.

One reason that the CIRA and the Real IRA campaign might restart is because the IRA proper can no longer stop them – as it did with dissident group the IPLO, by assassinating all their leaders in the mid-90s. Just too risky now – they confine themselves to the odd bank-robbery fundraiser, which let’s face it, beats the hell out of sausage sizzles.

When it all goes up, the worldwide reaction will be one of bewilderment – where did it come from? The lack of coverage is predictable. After all, this is Christian-on-Christian terrorist action, and as we know, terror is uniquely a product of the ruthless nature of Islam. Otherwise we might have to look closer to home for its roots.

Peter Fray

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