Unidentified ‘British security officials’ are telling journalists there is a possibility that sections of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) could attack next Friday’s royal wedding in London. At an event I attended this week, Patrick Mercer OBE, Conservative MP for Newark and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic and International Security, warned that the three security threats facing Britain are Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, violence ‘attached’ to student protests, and ‘Irish terrorists’ attacking the royal wedding. Mercer questioned the wisdom of holding a royal wedding so close to Easter, a time with historic significance for Irish republicans. The Easter Rising insurrection against British rule in Ireland began on 24 April 1916. The wedding date is also close to the 30th anniversary of the death of republican prisoner Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike on 5 May 1981. Don’t we understand ‘how Irish terrorists think’, asked Mercer. Yet, talking informally to journalists in London, I discovered many didn’t want to raise the matter because it might appear to strike a negative note and alienate readers at a time many view as one of national celebration.
If there is a threat of violent attacks on the wedding – and it is unlikely security services would make details public even if there were evidence that there was a threat – what would be an effective way to communicate it? Where does the balance lie between informing and scaremongering? This has been a dilemma for security journalists for decades. Government and journalists will face the same dilemma at the Olympics in a year’s time so it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next week.