Northern Ireland unites to prevent return of The Troubles

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BELFAST, N. Ireland — Several thousand Catholics and Protestants united in a silent protest here after last month’s killing of two soldiers and a policeman two days later. Two other soldiers and two pizza delivery men were seriously wounded.

The separate attacks by paramilitary sects caused wide-spread worry that Northern Ireland would plunge into sectarian bloodshed again. Known as The Troubles, the 40-year conflict had left 3,700 dead.

More than 2,000 people gathered at lunchtime in front of Belfast City Hall to oppose the worst violence since 1998, the year both sides’ politicians struck the Good Friday peace deal (also known as the Belfast Agreement) that sought lasting compromise through a Catholic-Protestant government.

Thousands more gathered in the predominantly Catholic border cities of Londonderry and Newry, where some splinter groups reportedly remain active in the shadows despite overwhelming public opposition.

“No going back,” read placards at all the protests.

In Belfast, as a lone bagpiper played a lament, the crowd — among them firefighters and postal workers, former paramilitary convicts and child-cradling mothers — fell silent for five minutes. Some wept.

“I’m a Catholic. I grew up in an area where the police were the enemy. Now things have changed so completely for the better,” said Aidan Kane, a paramedic who came to the rally with his 6-year-old boy on his shoulders. “If my wee lad here wants to be a policeman when he grows up, I’d be proud. I shouldn’t have to worry that some nut might shoot him for serving his community.”

Patricia McKeown, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, chief organizer of the protests, said she hoped the silence of the crowds would “be a silence that thunders around the world.” The union congress organizes in both the north and south.

The Communist Party of Ireland issued a statement condemning the attacks. Calling the armed attacks “failed methods of struggle” the party said, “it is a barren strategy that will lead us nowhere except to further deaths, imprisonment, unnecessary suffering, and division.”

The party welcomed the “recent mobilization of working people by the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU” as an important statement by working people that they do not want a return to violence, that the new political institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement must be made to work, and that no group has the right to abrogate the will of the people.”

The party sought to distance itself unequivocally from the violence. “As an anti-imperialist party committed to securing national unity and sovereignty” the Communists called for an end to the attacks. “We repudiate their approach as tactically and strategically futile and both anti-people and anti-republican.”

The statement also called for the full implementation of the peace agreement. “While the condemnation of these armed attacks is important in itself, there is also a great responsibility on those forces that support the Belfast Agreement to push forward to secure its full implementation. The Belfast Agreement and the institutions deriving from it are not the end of the process, nor the end of struggle, but rather they provide a forum from which new struggle and new demands must be made.”

Recognizing “the growing and deepening economic and social crisis being experienced by all working people in our country, north and south” the party called for “greater unity among all workers” and “securing greater economic and social integration” between the two.