The Troubles are Still Troubling

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Written by Justin H. Leopold-Cohen

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) recently updated its Global Terrorism Database to include 2016 information. This timely addition exposed the fact that though the violence from the Northern Ireland-United Kingdom conflict known as “The Troubles,” has dramatically fallen in intensity since 1995, it continues to beleaguer the British Isles with terrorist activity.

Despite the continued presence of Irish-Republican violence, many believe the conflict long since settled. The new Martin Campbell film The Foreigner, based on the 1992 novel “The Chinaman,” by Stephen Leather, was released October 13, 2017, and features Jackie Chan’s martial arts themed action as well as “a Northern Irish faction [which] is making an aggressive comeback.” While some reviewers have already begun to critique Chan’s performance, others have gone after the plot, describing his depiction of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as outdated—something that would have made far more sense in the early 1990’s when the novel came out and IRA violence headlined the news.

In fact, though IRA activity has not made major headlines of late, new IRA factions and splinter groups have kept violence very much alive.

Though Irish Republican-linked attacks tend to lack the magnitude of other more modern terrorist groups, the numbers of the Global Terrorism Database show that attacks and harassment continue, many times leaving fatalities. The most recent example in early October 2017 saw Glasgow, Scotland resident Andrew Kinnon arrested under the United Kingdom Terrorism Act for inciting others to kill members of the Northern Ireland Police Force.

This violence goes beyond just rhetoric and incitement. Two splinter groups have made headlines for violent attacks in 2016.

The New IRA faction also was in the news for the targeted killing of Adrian Ismay in March 2016. Ismay was a prison officer in Northern Ireland who earned the group’s wrath for his involvement “at Maghaberry Prison, a high-security facility 20 miles from Belfast that had been a site notorious for escalating tensions between guards and dissident Republican inmates.”

In February of 2016, The Continuity IRA disguised three of its members as police officers and launched an assault on the venue of the 2016 World Boxing Organization (WBO) European lightweight title fight, killing David Byrne, a suspected associate of the Kinahan gang. The group’s leadership claimed this was revenge for Byrne’s alleged involvement in an organized crime war that resulted in the death of an IRA member belonging to another faction; the Real IRA.

Organized crime is perhaps where Irish Republican groups have made the largest impression since the in the early 2000’s, when their terrorist activities began to decline. The Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA), and especially the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) have become notorious for their participation in the drug trade and other criminal activities to support terrorist agendas.

At the October 13, 2017 conference of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Illicit Trade report noted that Irish Republican linked groups have been heavily involved in various smuggling operations to fuel their terror enterprise, particularly illegal cigarette sales, a tactic widely used by terrorist groups including Al- Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

This is not new behavior for IRA factions; historically, these groups had a notable “involvement in organized criminal activities, such as extortion, bank robbery, smuggling, and counterfeiting.” This involvement would sometimes consist of a group’s own members acting as an organized crime group in order to procure arms or funds for continuing operations; other times, it would involve collaboration with established organized crime groups for similar objectives, all of which was meant to raise funds “through illicit means such as bank robberies, smuggling, as well as protection and extortion.”

The continued violence from attacks and engagement in organized crime has kept Northern Ireland dangerous enough; in May of 2016, police forces raised the terror threat level from moderate to severe, as the various factions and splinter groups have attempted to stay active, though they are still are nowhere near approaching their former levels of activity.

That said, a movie plot involving a resurgent IRA group is quite realistic for 2017, and perhaps will spark people to realize that people are still dying due to The Troubles—and that is troublesome, indeed.

About the Author: Justin H. Leopold-Cohen is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University MA program in Global Security Studies, where he wrote his thesis on terrorist-criminal activity. He received his BA from Clark University completing a Bachelor of Arts in American History and Political Science.  Any opinions expressed in his writing are solely his own, and do not speak for any institution or government.