The political history of Northern Ireland is a painful one.
In 1916, Irish separtists took up arms seeking independence from the British Empire and a few years later suceeded in winning an independent Republic of Ireland. Yet tensions between loyalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of Great Britain, and the separatists or republicans, who wanted a completely unified Ireland, continued.
These countermanding viewpoints led to decades of political and sectarian hatred and, from the 1960s to 1998, an insurgency-based conflict between Britain and the separatists.
I have a personal anecdote here. In the 1980s, my British mother was traveling with my American father through a Catholic area of Northern Ireland and went into a Catholic store to buy a chicken for a picnic lunch. About 10 minutes after leaving, however, my mother found out that the chicken was rotting. The store owners had given her the chicken in punishment for her accent. But had my father bought the chicken, he would have probably been given the best they had in store!
The sectarian hatred was and, for some, remains real.
Fortunately, in 1998, the conflict ended with the Good Friday agreement, and between then and now Northern Ireland has seen a period of unprecedented prosperity.
But now new storm clouds are gathering.
The challenge is twofold. The first problem is the paralysis in the Northern Irish parliament at Stormont. Affected by mistrust and mutual hatred, loyalists under the Democratic Unionist Party and separatists under Sinn Fein are in a governing stalemate.
The second problem is the growing organizational capability of the New-Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist group. The New-IRA seeks the forced unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and has assassinated at least one prison officer and one police officer since 2011.
While the two challenges go hand-in-hand, the most immediate threat is that of the New-IRA. On June 3, two New-IRA affiliated individuals were arrested in Dublin while in possession of 6 kg of Semtex plastic explosive and associated detonators. If detonated in a crowded area, 6 kg of Semtex could kill hundreds of people.
What's more, on Friday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced that the New-IRA has developed a new pressure-plate based explosive. According to the police, this system was employed in a failed attack against a police officer earlier this year.
Regardless, it's clear the New-IRA has a significant explosives supply and the intent to use them for a more aggressive campaign.
We can be confident of the aggression factor based on the New-IRA's existing record of attacks and its total-war style mindset. After all, this is the successor organization to the Real-IRA group that was responsible for murdering 29 innocent people when it blew up a street in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 1998. And were it able to do so, the New-IRA would likely attempt to use its explosives to target British interests on British soil. It's for that reason the U.K. government has ramped up its attention toward the terrorist group since 2016.
The Stormont crisis also plays a role here in motivating the New-IRA to believe it can coalesce other groups around its more aggressive agenda.
And so, while great progress that has been made over the last 19 years, peace is again in doubt.