From time to time the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland sets out to prove that it is still in the IRA business. It was going to do that this autumn with a campaign of murder of British politicians in England and soldiers in Germany, which met with a little success and more failure. So it aimed terror at Irish Catholic families in Northern Ireland instead, by holding three families hostage and forcing the men to be suicide drivers of bombs into British army installations.
The net death toll was six British soldiers and one Irish driver. Sometimes the IRA tries to win sympathy for patriotic martyrdom, other times to rule Catholics by terror. The victims whose families it threatened to murder were, in IRA eyes, collaborators. The message to Catholics is clear: Don't do what the IRA would disapprove lest it murder your family.
Not to be outdone, the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters in the Protestant community murdered a Protestant man who had been questioned by police. They believed he had betrayed them. The UFF, also, is more interested in intimidating its own community than in political achievement.
Northern Ireland has several things going for it: The European Community's single market in 1992 will wipe out the last vestige of economic border between Ireland and Britain. The rights of citizenship are, in practice, transferable. A tougher fair employment law has gone into force. Irish civil servants are posted near Belfast giving Dublin a consultative role in Northern Ireland.
Despite the murders, the death toll of 62 for 1989 makes Northern Ireland much safer than Baltimore. The International Fund for Ireland pushes development that blurs the border. Fruit of the Loom is building a yarn factory in Londonderry that will supply its T-shirt factory in County Donegal across the border, exactly the kind of American investment that unites Irish people.
There are negatives as well. Past British convictions are suspect. Irish courts have refused to extradite some suspects. Unionist politicians in the Protestant community hold out against cooperation. And the terrorists in both communities have extorted and stolen so much money that, if those entrusted with investing have not embezzled it, terrorism is endowed and self-sustaining.
The latest murders were carried out by small secret cells. They were counterproductive to any political purpose. No matter what the songs say, this is terrorism for its own sake.