A BLAST OF EVIL
August 19, 1998
The residents of Omagh were the latest victims of Northern Ireland's "troubles" after a bomb exploded, killing 28 people and wounding 220. A splinter group calling itself "The Real IRA" took responsibility for the bombings. After a background report, two journalists discuss what the recent violence may mean for the Northern Ireland peace process.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 14, 1998
A discussion on recent violence in Northern Ireland.
July 9, 1998
Protestant extremists are angry over a decision to ban a march through Catholic areas.
May 25, 1998
A report on the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
April 10, 1998
Former Senator George Mitchell discusses the peace accord.
Read an Online Forum on the peace agreement in Northern Ireland?
April 9, 1998
Irish peace talks go down to the wire.
March 17, 1998
P.M. Bertie Ahern discusses efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
August 4, 1997
Northern Ireland peace talks are scheduled to resume in September.
July 21, 1997
Ireland: More Steps Toward Peace.
February 12, 1996
An IRA bomb shatters the 18 month ceasefire.
The Greening of the White House: a look at U.S. - Northern Ireland relations.
Is peace possible in Northern Ireland?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Europe.
The Irish Times.
The Belfast Telegraph.
JOHN IRVINE, ITN: In the quiet County Donegal Town of Buncrana, the community today said goodbye to three of its youngest. The boys were on a field trip to Omagh when terrorism cut them down. James Barker and Sean McLaughlin were aged 12. Oran Doherty was eight years old. Three months ago Shaun McLaughlin and some school friends met the Irish president and read a poem telling of their hopes for peace in Northern Ireland. Mary McAleese read it especially to coincide with today's funerals.
MARY MCALEESE: "Orange and green, it doesn't matter. United now, don't shatter our dream. Scatter the seeds of peace over our land, so we can travel hand in hand across the bridge of hope."
JOHN IRVINE: In Omagh, itself, the apology from the mass murderers of "The Real IRA" was greeted with derision; so too was the terrorists' follow-up announcement of a re-think and a halt to the violence in the meantime.
MAN FROM OMAGH: What cease-fire? We are supposed to be having one, for what, over a year. They're still killing.
JOHN IRVINE: The response from politicians and security chiefs has also been scathing.
DAVID TRIMBLE, First Minister, Northern Ireland Assembly: Belated it is, this statement about a cessation has been issued in a desperate attempt to evade the consequences of their actions.
RONNIE FLANAGAN, RUC Chief Constable: Obviously, anybody who ceases violence, that's to be welcomed, but it's much too soon to add too much weight to the statement in the form it's been issued at this stage.
JOHN IRVINE: The hunt for the Omagh bombers now involves police forces from both sides of the Irish sea, as well as the Irish border. Today, two funeral corteges passed the bomb site. It had been screened off to spare relatives and other mourners the distress of seeing where the victims were killed. Behind the barrier, the marathon search operation was halted for a time as a mark of respect for the dead. Omagh has been largely deserted this afternoon. Its citizens have required elsewhere. At the small churches that dot the lush Tyrone countryside, today this county has mourned like never before. The extraordinary level of sadness and grief is unrelenting. Elsewhere, the future is being discussed. But in this area no one can see beyond the tragedy of the here and now.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner takes it from there.
MARGARET WARNER: We get two views now on the ramifications of the latest violence. Joe Carroll is Washington bureau chief of the Dublin-based Irish Times. And Michael McDowell covered Northern Ireland for the Belfast Telegraph and the BBC. He's now a fellow at the Overseas Development Council, a Washington research organization.
Joe Carroll, this group calling itself the Real IRA claimed responsibility for this attack, then today said they were going to renounce violence. Who are these people?
JOE CARROLL, The Irish Times: Well, they're essentially breakaways or dissidents from the provisional IRA, but they're very dangerous people because they seem to have access to some of the bomb-making equipment of the IRA. But politically, and this was a political act as much as terrorist act, they're trying to destroy the Belfast or Good Friday agreement, and this was their way of trying to destabilize the new arrangements that are only being put in place at the moment.
"These people have no mandate."
MARGARET WARNER: How would you characterize the group?
MICHAEL McDOWELL, Overseas Development Council: Well, John Hume, the leader of the main Catholic party in Northern Ireland, described them as undiluted Fascists, and I don't think that's an exaggeration. There are people here with no mandate, and 95 percent of the people in the Irish Republic voted in a referendum to support the agreement. 71 percent of the people of Northern Ireland voted to support the agreement, but apparently, these people think that they have a right to carry on and kill people because they don't like the agreement. But the mandates is overwhelming in the communities in Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, and in the Irish Republic, and in the whole Island of Ireland. But it doesn't matter to them. The democratic mandate is not the issue. But President McAleese, who attended the funerals, said these people are immune to the arguments of the logic of democracy.
MARGARET WARNER: And are they from both sides of the border, from both the Republic of Ireland to the South and Northern Ireland?
JOE CARROLL: Yes, they are, but then there's quite a lot of movement from North to South. Some of the terrorists in the North will go down South to kind of get a rest, to get a break. But they seem to be politically centered south of the border, at least that is what the authorities believe. So that's why the republic today brought in or announced draconian measures to round up people like the people responsible for the bombing.
MARGARET WARNER: Now we also had earlier this summer some real violence associated with certain Protestant elements in the North, again, sort of splinter factions. What kind of pressure does this put on the new political leadership that is Catholic and Protestant in the North?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Significant pressure, but one hopes the administration will survive the pressure because, as I said earlier, there's overwhelming support for the agreement. However, it puts David Trimble, particularly, the leader of the main Protestant in Northern Ireland, the largest party, under significant stress because just over 50 percent of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland supported the deal, so a bare majority. Presumably, the tactics of this group were to give comfort to Trimble's hard-liners, to those like Ian Paisley, who are against the deal in the Protestant community by destabilizing that government.
MARGARET WARNER: So you mean, in other words, radical elements on both sides feed one another and end up supporting one another in a weird way?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yes. They're-all sides of the same coin in a sense.
MARGARET WARNER: Because they both want the same thing.
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Exactly. But they don't have the electoral mandate to break the deal by democratic means, so, therefore, they go outside the democratic process in order to destroy it.
How will the joint political leadership of Northern Ireland respond?
MARGARET WARNER: How well do you think political leadership in the North, this new political leadership, joint political leadership, is coping so far? Describe it a little bit. How are they trying to cope with things like this?
JOE CARROLL: Well, at the moment, it's left to leaders like David Trimble on the Protestant side and Seamus Mallon, who's the number two on the Catholic side, and they're working very closely together. And I think it's interesting that David Trimble was down in Dublin today talking to the Irish prime minister. It's a bit ironic. I mean, the new agreement is meant to bring in closer economic cooperation, North and South. In fact, it's beginning at a much closer security, anti-terrorist cooperation, North and South. But I think that's important, because if David Trimble can't be seen to be able to cope with this destabilizing factor, well, then it would be, you know, possibly fatal for his political chances, because when this assembly resumes in the middle of September, I mean, the opponents like Dr. Paisley will be able to say, what's the point in this agreement if this kind of killing and mayhem is going on? We were better without the agreement. So he's got to be able to show that they have taken control.
The pressure on the IRA.
MARGARET WARNER: And how about Gerry Adams, head of the political wing of the main IRA? Has this put additional pressure on him?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yes, it has. He has gone further than ever before. He has actually condemned for the first time this attack and condemned the organization that did it. But there will be huge pressure on him from both the British government, the Irish government, Mr. Trimble, and his deputy, Seamus Mallon, for them to go further, in other words, to give information to the authorities, whether it be in the Irish Republic or a mutual body, on who these people who are, because they are dissidents from the Republican movement. And there will be a moral pressure on Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein to give information on who the people are, and to begin the process of decommissioning arms, handing in weapons, and so on. And unless that happens, Trimble is in a very shaky position.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that?
JOE CARROLL: Well, I think that that might be very desirable. I'm not so sure it's going to happen, because this whole thing about decommissioning and handing in of arms is running into a blank wall up till now. As Michael said, there will be this extra pressure, you know, surely after this awful atrocity, you must tell us where the explosives are. But some of the explosives, anyhow, aren't very sophisticated. They can be used for fertilizer, so, you know, it's not necessarily going to be a concluding argument, but the pressure is going to come on Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, the Sinn Fein leaders, to kind of cooperate more now in the decommissioning. They haven't indicated they're going to do that, and I think it is still going to be difficult for them to go to the IRA and say now you must do it because of this. The IRA have always said we don't take orders from anybody, in a sense even Gerry Adams; we'll decide if we're going to do it. Now they may decide, because they are gradually getting into the political process.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael, you kept mentioning the public sentiment being for peace and against this, and we saw some of the revulsion, I think, in just everyday people to these incidents, but can the public revulsion, can public sentiment actually halt this violence in any practical sense?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: I think people can talk to their elected representatives in Sinn Fein. They can talk to their elected representatives on the Protestant paramilitary side, those political parties, and perhaps then to begin the process of decommissioning, of ending quite horrific-the so-called punishment beatings, which are essentially paramilitary attacks-in both communities by elements within the IRA, which are continuing. There were 130 or more of these attacks, dropping cement blocks on young boys and breaking their legs, shooting them in the kneecaps. There was one particularly horrific murder just a month ago. It's happening on the Protestant side as well, and people, ordinary people are saying, we're supposed to have a peace deal, why isn't there peace? You're part of the deal-they're saying this to Adams and to the Protestant parties too-why is this still going on?
Do ordinary people want peace?
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think ordinary people who want peace can have a practical effect?
JOE CARROLL: Well, I would like to think so, but, you know, I remember the famous movement, the women's peace movement back in the 1970s, after one particularly bad tragedy and thousands of women poured in the street, and, you know, this must never happen again, this must end, and of course, the violence did go on. So I'm not quite as hopeful. We're all terribly shocked by it. But sometimes these men, people are so fanatical that they simply said, you know, dying for Ireland is what this is all about, and we'll do it.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, do you think that, nonetheless, the peace process can continue even if there's also violence?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yes, I do, but it can be shaking. I think the upcoming visit of President Clinton to Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic, but particularly Northern Ireland could bolster the peace process by backing the new assembly and backing the new government in condemning violence. I'm pushing for decommissioning and an end to paramilitary attacks. That would really help.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.