THERE is something awfully depressing, but also not surprising, about the news that an Irish citizen serving in the British army has been told not to travel home for Christmas because dissident republicans were threatening to kill him. Dissident dinosaurs – they haven't gone away you know.
We saw them during the queen's visit, a small ragbag banging crash barriers and shouting abuse, their heads full of 19th Century grievances. We saw them protesting against foreign games in Croke Park – some of them wearing British soccer jerseys. Ridiculous and out of date – but they are not completely ridiculous. They are small in number but deadly too. As we see with the links to organised crime, and the paramilitary display at Alan Ryan's funeral. And though small in Northern Ireland, they can still kill soldiers and policemen and escape.
The latest revelation is particularly vicious – and sneaky. The gardai discovered a plot to murder the Irish soldier while he was visiting his family in Limerick over Christmas.
A faction of the Continuity IRA (CIRA) had been under investigation in the city and had apparently sourced a weapon in preparation to kill the soldier, who is in his 20s.
What is especially sinister is that the CIRA learned of his soldier's plans to return home by monitoring his Facebook page. Members of the group had even falsely befriended him to track his movements. Once again we see the potential perils of social media, where people put their entire lives and social photo collection up in public.
When gardai became aware of this cowardly plan they contacted the soldier and his family who postponed his Christmas trip home. A previous plot to kill the soldier when he was planning to return to Ireland in August had also been uncovered.
The gardai have made serious inroads with investigations into dissident organisations over the last few months, and 15 arrests have been made.
But these plots are disgusting – and an utter parody of republican actions of old where at least there was some context of an ongoing 'struggle' or 'military conflict', even if this still made it inexcusable.
This doesn't even have that. It is akin to the recent campaign by neo-Nazis to murder kebab stall owners around Germany – just because they were Muslim or immigrant. It is as 'meaningful' and pointless as that – just pure hate.
It is also totally at odds with the feelings of almost the entirety of Irish people.
We are in a totally transformed situation now.
Far from finding involvement in the British army embarrassing, many young Irish are flocking to such involvement.
They are also heartened by the completely changed attitude to the deep involvement of the previous Irish generations in the British army, from the mid-19th Century, when the rugged Irish, and Scots, were the backbone of the British army overseas, to the more modern engagement in the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers, which put food on the table for working-class families and provided secure employment.
And there is the long overdue rehabilitation of those Irish soldiers who fought, and often died, for very honourable reasons in two world wars – 49,000 in the first world war alone, along with those who wanted to fight fascism and Hitler, like so much of the rest of Europe.
This is a much more laudable legacy than a hidden dissidents on the internet trying to set up the murder of a lone soldier, on home with his family at Christmas.