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The Guardian view on Northern Ireland: violence in a political vacuum | Editorial

This week’s heightened threat level is umbilically connected to the continued absence of democratic government

A year ago, in March 2022, the terror threat level in Northern Ireland was lowered for the first time in more than a decade. This week, however, that window of hope was slammed shut once again, when the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, announced that the threat level was being restored to “severe”. This means that a terror attack in the north is now officially deemed to be “highly likely”. These are extraordinarily ominous words, not solely because there is less than a month to go before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, which brought power-sharing and peace to Northern Ireland.

In his statement on Tuesday about the threat level, Mr Heaton-Harris pointed the finger at an increase in politically motivated violence. He singled out the targeting of police officers, exemplified by the shooting of DCI John Caldwell in Omagh in February, and by a bomb attack on police in Strabane in November, both attributed to the New IRA. Yet the threat to peace does not emanate from dissident republicans alone. There have been pipe bomb and petrol bomb attacks on homes in Ards and North Down this week, all of which are part of a continuing drugs war between rival loyalist UDA gangs.

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