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Some Seek to Derail Peace Process in Northern Ireland

Aired December 16, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, terrorism rears its ugly head again in Northern Ireland. Is the peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in jeopardy?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Tonight, we focus on a conflict that has largely disappeared from the headlines but could be in danger of flaring up again. It's been more than a decade since the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, when paramilitary groups agreed eventually to lay down their arms and former enemies entered a power-sharing agreement.

But some dissident IRA members never accepted the peace deal, and this year, there have been a series of attacks against the security forces. CNN's Nic Robertson reports on the dangerous implications.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It could have killed dozens of people, a 180-kilogram bomb left at a police headquarters in Belfast in November. It only partially exploded, but it showed just how determined Republican dissidents are to derail the peace process in Northern Ireland.

It was also a frightening reminder of a similar-sized car bomb that killed 29 people, including 9 children, in the town of Omagh in 1998. In each case, a group calling itself the Real IRA was blamed. Gary Donnelly says he doesn't speak for the gunmen and bombers, but his movement, like the Real IRA, is branded a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

GARY DONNELLY, 32 COUNTY SOVEREIGNTY MOVEMENT: The Good Friday Agreement never addressed the core issue for Republicans, which was the violation of Irish national sovereignty by a foreign occupying power, namely Britain.

ROBERTSON: In other words, it was a sellout. It's a message that resonates in his hometown, Londonderry, or Derry, as it's known to Catholics like him. Here, murals recall some of the worst fighting during the three decades of political violence, like Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers killed 13 people, as riots flared in 1972.

But the writing on the wall is changing. The Catholic community is divided. The dissidents are pitched (ph) against Sinn Fein, the largest Republican party and the political wing of the IRA.

DONNELLY: People have reorganized and are feeling more confident now.

ROBERTSON: So confident, they hung this huge banner just yards from the house of Sinn Fein leader and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness. McGuinness is now the second-most powerful politician in the province, enshrining political clout Catholics wanted for decades, but couldn't get.

But he's been powerless to stop the Real IRA, even around the corner from his house.

(on-screen): Another sign of how strong the dissident Republicans are becoming in these communities is that punishment, beatings and shootings have gone up significantly. Once it was the IRA who carried out those attacks; they dropped off after the Good Friday peace agreement, but now they're back, and it's the Real IRA who's behind them.

(voice-over): Across Northern Ireland this year, dissidents have mounted scores of attacks, according to the police, including several massive car bombs that have failed to go off, rocket attacks, mortars, and shootings. Two soldiers and one policeman have been killed.

Martin McGuinness condemned the gunmen as traitors. And for some Republicans, that was a watershed moment.

GAVIN DEERY, MECHANIC: How can Mr. McGuinness call these guys traitors or -- or call the war off? He seems he's taken ownership of the war, taken ownership as if it's his war. The -- the logic was that it was the people's war, the people supported these people, put them there.

ROBERTSON: Deery's grandmother was shot during Bloody Sunday. His father, an IRA volunteer, was killed a decade-and-a-half later while making bombs.

DEERY: There is a lot of people not happy, and I can -- can only imagine there's growing support for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and (inaudible) and an armed struggle.

ROBERTSON: Gerry Kelly was also in the IRA, now a Sinn Fein minister in the power-sharing government. He says the dissident fringe has no popular support.


GERRY KELLY, SINN FEIN MINISTER: There is a difference between an upsurge in the activity and an upsurge in support. They do not have an upsurge in support. They do not have support. On the one or two occasions where some people who pontificated the so-called dissident views went to the electorate, they were humiliated.

ROBERTSON: But many of Kelly's old allies in the IRA have yet to feel the benefit of peace. The Bradys were IRA through and through. Brendan did time in jail.

BRENDAN BRADY: A lot of prisoners came out. What was there here for them? There's nothing here for them. There's nothing here now. Where is the work?

ROBERTSON: Their brother, also a former IRA prisoner, died in police custody in October. The cause of death is still being investigated. Hundreds came to his funeral. Mass gunmen fired shots over his coffin, a mark of respect, and a sign, they say, of how many feel let down by Sinn Fein.

BRENDAN BRADY: There is no change. There's no change. We're still being harassed. We're still being tortured. And there still (inaudible) young people in this area are getting stabbed (inaudible) what for?

ROBERTSON: Donnelly predicts the violence will continue.

DONNELLY: You might think it would be fairly obvious that British policemen in Ireland implementing foreign laws would quite clearly be a target for -- for the resistance.

ROBERTSON: And he suggests that resistance may cross the Irish Sea.

DONNELLY: Britain has always been a target for Republican groups. And I think there's a belief amongst groups that that's where it hurts the British government most.

ROBERTSON: Sinn Fein minister Gerry Kelly, who once bombed the Central Criminal Court in London, says the dissidents have no political future, but they are dangerous.

KELLY: They are going nowhere. Unfortunately, and I suppose -- you know, I am in my 50s now. I do feel a responsibility to give this message to the young people who are ideologically driven, do not fall into the trap of following some of these people into what is a dead-end street, into jail, and into people being killed.

ROBERTSON: A sober assessment. Northern Ireland once again bracing for violence.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.


AMANPOUR: And joining me now, a member of the Independent Monitoring Commission which tracks paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, Dick Kerr. He's a former deputy director of the CIA.

Welcome from Washington.


AMANPOUR: Let's try to break this down. I covered the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement and the events succeeding it, and now we have this alarming spike, we have these alarming statistics in that report, and these very aggressive words from some of the IRA. How much of a threat are they to the peace agreement right now?

KERR: I would be very cautious about saying they're a threat to the peace agreement. What they are is a serious threat to -- to the police and -- and to the army personnel, because they are -- they are ruthless. And - - and their primary objective is to kill people and to sow disorder. There's no question...

AMANPOUR: But if that -- if that's the case and they're a threat to the police and the army, aren't they a threat to the whole community and the power-sharing agreement?

KERR: No, I don't think so. I think that's overstating the -- the problem. They -- they -- what they -- I think that you have to look at what their objectives are, and that is to undermine the agreement, to undermine Sinn Fein, and to cause it difficulty in rather difficult times, economic times and times when some people don't see much progress from the -- from the Good Friday Agreement.

But they are small in number. The incidents are -- are -- while they're large compared to what they've done in the past, I think it has to be put in a reasonable perspective.

AMANPOUR: So when you say small in number -- and you track these -- these groups -- how big would you say?

KERR: I don't -- one of our difficulties is knowing the precise number. I think it is small. If you were talking 100 people, I think you'd be in the -- in the neighborhood maybe. But quite honestly, neither the intelligence people nor the police nor the IMC know the number.


KERR: What we do know is there is a core group, and there are some people that they've attracted recently, perhaps a few from the former PIRA group, who were dissatisfied with the outcome.

AMANPOUR: Why now? They've always been dissatisfied with Good Friday. Why this spike now?

KERR: I think it's to take an opportunity to embarrass Sinn Fein, to embarrass the government, and to -- to work to undermine the process. But I think the likelihood that they're going to -- they tatter it a little bit on the edges, but I would -- I would say to -- to think that it's going to cause a sudden rather radical change and break down the agreement, I think is -- is not a realistic judgment.


AMANPOUR: As you are a part of this monitoring group and you track these paramilitary units and -- and what they do, do you think that they will have success? You know, they made a veiled or not-so-veiled threat to take the bombing campaign to the mainland, to Britain again. Is that possible?

KERR: It's possible, but I think they're going to have a hard time. British intelligence and the police work very aggressively against them. But the difficulty is, it's very hard to stop a small group of dedicated people from walking up behind a policeman or someone in the military or setting off -- and killing them -- setting off or trying to set off a bomb.

They -- unfortunately, they will -- they may have more success in the future with some of their large bombs. To date, they have not.

AMANPOUR: So do you think that they have popular support? Gerry Kelly was emphatic; he said they do not. Do they? And if they don't, can they -- can they last?

KERR: It seems to me that some of these organizations, like the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, are -- are primarily the hangers-on around some old families with a strong hatred of the -- of the regime -- of the British and people who are irreconcilable. They're not going to change. I mean, they have a -- a kind of faint resemblance to the jihad. You're not going to convince them to stop it, but the numbers are not that great.

I think they live in families. They have some local support, perhaps immediate (ph). But the communities do not support them in any significant way.

AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, Dick Kerr, thank you very much, indeed.

And when we come back, will the violence split Northern Ireland's former enemies who now share power? We'll have that part of the story when we return, and we'll hear from a former policeman who's being hunted by terrorists.




AMANPOUR (voice-over): Nationalist politicians celebrate a historic victory in a referendum designed to overcome decades of division, violence, inequity, a referendum designed to put Northern Ireland's affairs in the hands of all its people.

GERRY ADAMS, SINN FEIN LEADER: The task now is to manage that change, is to get the mechanisms for change to deliver on equality, on justice, and all of the other matters which are required if we are to have a peace settlement.


AMANPOUR: So that was Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams in that report I did 11 years ago. Just for a little bit of perspective, it was the day after the people of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic, voted yes in a referendum on the Good Friday peace agreement.

So have their hopes been fulfilled? We will have another report on that from our Nic Robertson.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): He risked his life daily as a police officer in Northern Ireland during the troubles. But more than 10 years after a peace agreement in the province, he fears his life is in danger again. He wants his identity hidden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a specific threat made towards me at my home that I was going to be taken out. And it wasn't taken seriously by the senior command. It was brushed under the carpet.


Sharpen up (ph) your own security. And that basically was it.

ROBERTSON: And so, after being a police officer for 16 years, he quit and moved house to avoid attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the troubles were ongoing, you always -- you know, one year, a lot of -- a lot of people had to move home. And now we're -- we're more or less back to where we were 10, 15 years ago.

ROBERTSON: He is not alone. So far this year, one policeman has been killed, others targeted, more than 20, according to police, forced to move to new homes, victims of violence reminiscent of Northern Ireland's bloody past.

It's the 12th Christmas since the Good Friday peace agreement was signed. Protestant Unionists, wanting to remain part of the U.K., and Catholic Republican leaders, seeking unity with Ireland, agreed to share power. In return, paramilitary groups agreed to lay down their weapons.

But this year, the season of goodwill is tempered by fear. Earlier this year, two British soldiers were killed by a group calling itself the Real IRA. Two days later, a policeman was shot dead by another dissident group called the Continuity IRA. These groups are made up of hard-line Republicans who always opposed the Good Friday Agreement, and they are getting stronger.

NORMAN BAXTER, FORMER POLICE CHIEF IN NORTHERN IRELAND: They've grown from a small core group back in the late 1990s to a loose confederation of people, ranging from 6,800 potential activists (ph), and that's a massive increase.

ROBERTSON: The independent commission that monitors the dissidents says the threat they pose is the most serious yet, and they are extremely active and dangerous.

LORD ALDERDICE, INDEPENDENT MONITORING COMMISSION: These people obviously have the capacity to kill soldiers, to kill policemen, to kill ordinary people, to kill anybody who they think is a, quote, "legitimate target."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very real. The boys on the ground now it's very, very real.

ROBERTSON: And the police are being forced to change their tactics. In the relative peace after the Good Friday Agreement, the force demilitarized, retrained for community policing, putting unarmed officers on the streets alone.

STEPHEN MCCANN, DEPUTY HEAD, POLICE FEDERATION: That maybe leaves that officer vulnerable to attack, so therefore you might have two officers, three officers doing it. In the past, you maybe were able to use vehicles that were not armored in any way. That may be the case that now you may have to change to using armored vehicles again.

ROBERTSON (on-screen): And it's not just policemen they're targeting now. It's their families, too. In October in this quiet Belfast suburban street, a bomb was attached to the car of a policeman's partner. It detonated, injuring her.

(voice-over): And the attacks are coming thick and fast. In the week we were in the province, there was a security incident almost every day. It's been that way for close to two years.

LORD ALDERDICE: I think maybe people didn't pay too much attention, because nobody had got killed, but once you got the two soldiers and the policeman being killed earlier in the year, people began to say, "Oh, my goodness."

ROBERTSON: More alarming, the hard core of dissidents is recruiting youngsters not known to the police.

BAXTER: As each incident occurs with new people involved, those people become more confident, become more ambitious, and therefore become more threatening in what they can do in the future, and you could potentially see a return to a wider campaign.

ROBERTSON: One former policeman is pessimistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to get worse, in my opinion. There's not the resources to deal with it.

ROBERTSON: The dissidents lack the strength to cause the scale of violence that scarred the province for more than 30 years, but there is a growing concern they'll attack mainland Britain, just as the IRA did before.

BAXTER: It's not an entirely easy thing for them to do, technically much more challenging than any of the things that we've been doing up until now, but do they want to do it? Yes, of course. And would they do it if they could? I have no doubt about that.

ROBERTSON: It's a threat that's going to endure long after the decorations come down.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Belfast, Northern Ireland.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now, a leading expert on the troubles, Lord Paul Bew, a professor of Irish politics at Queens University in Belfast.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Good evening to you there. What is the reaction amongst the people? Is this really jarring the people of Belfast in Northern Ireland?

BEW: Yes. I think Dick Kerr is right when he says this is not going to upset the Good Friday Agreement settlement, because there are majorities in both communities firmly for it, but on the other hand, it is provoking a political crisis. It's not the violence just occurring in a place unconnected from the mainstream politics.


The great fear of the Unionist right, which is growing stronger, is of a Republican campaign of violence on the streets while you have Republicans also in government exercising power in sensitive areas such as policing and justice. So there is a way in which this increase in violence is playing into the mainstream politics of Northern Ireland and making it hard for the institutions to function, because there is more fear and reserve, especially on the right-wing of Unionist politics, about the current situation than there was a year ago before these dissidents really got going.

AMANPOUR: So as you explain that, let's -- let's focus then on the policing, because that does seem to be a critical area of dispute between the two sides, the Protestant Unionists and Catholic Republicans. What is the status right now? They've been given all sorts of incentives by the British, lots and lots of money, millions and hundreds of millions of pounds. Why is this not happening?

BEW: It's not happening because, although there is an implicit agreement to do this -- and in my view, the first minister, who's a Unionist, Mr. Peter Robinson, wants to move ahead on this issue. He has nonetheless got himself into a big row and division with his deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, because he -- Peter Robinson now finds him under pressure -- now finds himself under pressure within his own party, because there is now fear about moving ahead in this final area of policing and justice.

Because it's become much more sensitive because there's a return of violence, you can make many arguments that what's at stake here in the real world is a very small issue. We already have a devolution in policing and justice because the local policing boards already operate, so devolution in this area is already partly at work at the moment, totally successfully, within the community.

AMANPOUR: So how are they going to resolve it?

BEW: We also have a situation where there is a large-stage British intelligence operation going on in Northern Ireland, and that is not going to be affected by the devolution of policing and justice. So there are ways to say that, in the real world, what's at stake here is not so great, but symbolically it's very important.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's not just symbolically...

BEW: And now also, with Sinn Fein laying down deadlines and saying that Mr. Robinson must move very quickly, always in Northern Irish politics that tends to produce a negative reaction.

AMANPOUR: Right. Lord Bew?

BEW: So we do have a real political crisis which affects the functioning of the institutions in a serious way.

AMANPOUR: Lord Bew, it's not just symbolic, is it, because it's really affecting the -- the street, but also what they said in the previous report from Nic Robertson, that they haven't seen the peace dividend, that the -- where is the work for the people who came out of jail. What is the -- the bigger infrastructural problem that gives even any oxygen to -- to the dissident Republicans?

BEW: Well, I -- my own view is that what the interviews really showed was that the Good Friday Agreement is not delivering on rapid progress towards Irish unity, which many people in Sinn Fein expected it would do and many of their voters expected it would do, and it was quite commonly said within that community that 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising of 1916, would be the date for Irish unity.

Now, there are many reasons why that's -- why the Good Friday Agreement is not delivering in that respect, partly because it accepted the principle of Unionist consent, and there is still a Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. That could be for some many years to come.

But also, the economic crisis of the Irish republic and also the crisis around the church has created the sense that the people of the rest of the island of Ireland are not pushing for Irish unity in the rather gentle way that they were, it has to be said, but they're not even doing that now.

All these things leave the -- as it were, the morale of Northern nationalism in a less good place, in a less optimistic place than it was two, three years ago. All these things make it harder for the Sinn Fein leadership to sell their political strategy.

AMANPOUR: All right.

BEW: It means that they now have to be tough (inaudible) negotiating difficulty with the Unionists.


BEW: And it means that some people are saying, "You told us this political process would be better than (inaudible) Irish unity." Where is the evidence?

AMANPOUR: And we'll be keeping an eye on this.

BEW: And I think that fundamentally that last point is fundamentally the argument that appeals to dissidents.

AMANPOUR: Lord Bew, we'll be keeping an eye on it. Thank you for analysis.

And next, our "Post-Script." How the lessons of negotiating peace in Northern Ireland could apply to the climate change conference in Copenhagen. That's when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Now, our "Post-Script." While it may be under strain, the Northern Ireland peace process still remains a model for conflict resolution in other parts of the world, and it is even being cited as an inspiration at the climate change conference in Denmark, where world leaders are now struggling to reach an agreement.

U.S. Senator John Kerry, who's in Copenhagen, reminded the conference that even urgent struggles take time, by quoting the former Northern Ireland peace envoy, George Mitchell, who said, "We have had 700 days of failure and one day of success."

Senator Kerry also told the delegates, quote, "Folks, this isn't a cafeteria where you can pick and choose and accept the science that tells us what's happening, but then reject the science that warns us what will happen," obviously there addressing some of the skeptics.

And so be sure to watch this program tomorrow, when we'll find out if world leaders can actually break the deadlock in Copenhagen. That's it for now. Thank you for watching. And for all of us here, goodbye from New York.