press release
Published: 30 March 2023

Commentary: Northern Ireland's terrorism threat level rises

The following expert comment was written by Dr Ciaran Gillespie, Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Surrey, about Northern Ireland's terrorism threat level being raised from substantial to severe:

“The decision by MI5 to raise the threat level in Northern Ireland has generated discussion for several reasons. The primary one being Northern Ireland’s central role in Brexit negotiations. It is not clear what further incidents the security services may be expecting from dissident groups, but the most significant recent context is the shooting of Senior Detective John Caldwell.

“This fact that this shooting took place in Omagh – the site of one of the most terrible bomb attacks of the Troubles – is significant. While it was designed to spoil the peace process, it actually galvanised it, producing an unwavering refusal in the broader population to tolerate backsliding into conflict.

“As a Northern Irish person, who researches political violence, it is an important context of the politics of the region that I feel is commonly lost in commentary. Individual incidents of violence, however horrific, do not indicate a potential for a return to the days of the Troubles. To assume this is to misunderstand the nature of that conflict, as well as the current political dynamic. War in Northern Ireland was a product of significant grievances, both between communities and with the British State.

“The Good Friday Agreement attained mass endorsement as the mechanism for transferring the resolution of those grievances firmly and, I would say, irreversibly into the realm of politics. The dissident paramilitary groups responsible for new threats have little traction in communities outside of those areas that suffer a dangerous combination of generational trauma from violence in the past and a lack of the kind of investment that signals other, better futures to come. In that sense, the institution responsible for Northern Ireland’s future security is more likely to be the Treasury than MI5.”


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