UPDATE 3: (Feb. 27)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has arrived in England for talks with British Prime Minister Ursula von der Leyen and King Charles III. An agreement on resolving the Northern Ireland protocol is expected. Whether the deal is accepted by the Northern Ireland’s DUP and Tory Euroskeptics is another matter. I will report the outcome in a fresh post. MH
UPDATE 2: (Feb. 26)
Three more men (a total of six) have been arrested in connection with the shooting of DCI Caldwell, who remains in critical condition. People across County Tyrone demonstrated over the weekend to show their support for the officer and opposition to any any return “to the bad old days” of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. … A deal on the Northern Ireland protocol is said to be tantalizingly close. As is typical with provincial politics and with Brexit, however, it just as easily could be scuttled at any moment.
UPDATE 1: (Feb. 23)
Three men have been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell. In an online statement, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: “Our main line of enquiry is that violent dissident republicans carried out this vile attack and within that a primary focus is on the New IRA.”
Republican dissidents “have long tried – and consistently failed – to escalate a violent campaign” in the north, The Guardian reported. “It is not about Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol or the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. It is not about sparking a Troubles 2.0. It is about showing they exist.”
But Brexit, the protocol, and the GFA anniversary are part of the mix. Here’s an analysis of the trade talks from The New York Times.
ORIGINAL POST: (Feb. 21)
The shooting of an off-duty police officer in Omagh, Northern Ireland, could disrupt efforts by the United Kingdom and European Union to reach a revised trade agreement for the province. Such a deal is being tied to reopening of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, which has been shuttered for a year.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Feb. 22 gun attack, “but politicians from all sides agreed that one of the small IRA splinter groups still active in the U.K. region must be to blame,” Politico reporter Shawn Pogatchnik wrote in a early dispatch from Dublin. Such an assignment of blame seems premature, perhaps irresponsible. (Pogatchnik, a U.S. native, has covered the island of Ireland for more than 30 years.)
The officer remained alive at the time of this post. The last murder of a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer was in 2011; the last shooting of one was in 2017, according to the BBC.
The Democratic Unionist Party withdrew from the Northern Ireland Assembly last February in protest of how Brexit treats the flow of goods in and out of the province. Unionist say the arrangement, or “protocol,” treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K. by imposing E.U. rules on goods crossing the border with the Republic of Ireland. This is the only land interface between the U.K. and the E.U. The compromise was conceived and signed off by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of his pledge to “get Brexit done” three years ago and has caused problems ever since. Many residents and observers (including U.S. officials) worry that a “hard border” between the North and Republic will spark a return to the sectarian violence of the Troubles.
U.K. and E.U. negotiators this week said they were within sight of a new protocol, but unionist remained skeptical.
The shooting and the trade talks are both developing stories. This post will be updated over the next few days. Email subscribers should check the website for the latest details. MH