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20 May 2004 Edition

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Exclusion and violence

BY LAURA FRIEL

A new wall mural in Ballymurphy, Belfast, highlights collusion

A new wall mural in Ballymurphy, Belfast, highlights collusion

Exclusion isn't experienced in sound bites. For northern nationalists, the call by the recent IMC report for the expulsion of republicans from civic society through the imposition of community political vetting runs parallel with the Sandy Row unionist attempt to purge Irish Catholics, Chinese and other ethnic groups from the Whitehall apartment complex in Belfast.

Exclusion as a dynamic is as equally fed by the DUP deputy leader's assertion that Sinn Féin's electoral mandate does not give republicans and their electorate the right to participate in democracy as by the vicious media campaign of anti-republican vilification by Fianna Fáil Justice Minister, Michael McDowell.

Exclusion is about the failure of the two governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement's promise of power sharing and equality. And it is against this backdrop that any upsurge in unionist paramilitary violence will be understood within nationalist communities across the North this summer.

In a recent interview in the Belfast Newsletter, the UVF said it did not support the Good Friday Agreement and threatened to go back to war if there was any attempt to dissolve "the Union". The leadership of the UVF described the Peace Process as "at the crossroads" and warned that they remained "ready for war".

"We reflect the feelings of the unionist populace but just because we do not like the way things have developed that does not mean we are going to go out and shoot a Roman Catholic taxi driver," said the UVF spokesperson.

"Like everyone else we hope those days are gone but for us the war is not over until the IRA says so and then the dissident republicans. Only then will we say the war is over for us."

UDA threats

Meanwhile, UDA leader Jackie McDonald has threatened "a long hot summer" which, he warned, could see major unionist paramilitary violence on the streets. According to a Sunday newspaper, the UDA's threat of violence has been reiterated by other unionist paramilitary groupings.

The UDA has warned that any attempt to regulate Orange Order parades, particularly the carrying of unionist paramilitary insignia and flags, will end in violent confrontation.

Speaking in the British House of Commons, UUP leader David Trimble reiterated the UDA leader's words. Paramilitary groups across the Six Counties were preparing to escalate violence this summer, he told the British parliament.

With amazing insight into the plans of unionist paramilitaries, Trimble said that trouble would erupt at interface areas. He went on to speculate that the political consequence of such violence would result in stiffer penalties against parties linked to paramilitaries in the next IMC report.

Two years ago, unionist paramilitaries engaged in a violent siege of a nationalist enclave in east Belfast. The families of the Short Strand endured months of nightly petrol and pipe-bomb attacks and were forced to live with their windows and doors shuttered throughout the summer.

At the time, many nationalists believed unionist attacks on vulnerable nationalist areas were a crude attempt to break the IRA cessation. Unionists hoped that any breach could be used to exclude Sinn Féin from the Assembly.

Ian Paisley has made it clear that he wishes to be prime minister in an old-style Stormont assembly in which unionist domination can be re-asserted by the exclusion of the largest nationalist party, Sinn Féin. As nationalists in the north know to their cost, unionist leaders are quite prepared to utilise unionist paramilitary violence to achieve their political ends.

Meanwhile, DUP European candidate Jim Allister has described the fact that Sinn Féin is allowed to participate in elections as "an affront to democracy". He urged unionists to turn out on polling day and vote "to keep unionism ahead".

Reserve dismantling on hold

Add to this cocktail of potential trouble the announcement by PSNI Chief Hugh Orde that the decision to disband the PSNI Reserve has been put on hold until after the summer. After the summer, said the PSNI Chief, he would know if the reserve were still "needed". With unionist paramilitaries already threatening greater interface violence, it doesn't take any special insight to predict Orde's likely post-summer assessment.

In the last three weeks, there has been a marked increase in unionist paramilitary violence. Fears of a fresh feud between the UVF and LVF appeared to have been justified after Brian Stewart (34), believed to be a senior member of the LVF, was shot dead in Belfast on Tuesday. The killing followed an earlier gun attack on the home of a unionist paramilitary in east Belfast last week. Media speculation has linked supporters of the jailed Johnny Adair with the LVF. Adair is set to be released next January.

Upsurge in attacks

There has been a marked increase in attacks on the nationalist community in the last three weeks. In a series of pipe bomb attacks in the past week, Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan was targeted in Ballymena and other attacks took place in Maghera and Randalstown. Earlier in the week, the nationalist community of Whitewell in Belfast came under attack and a Catholic worker in Dunmurry was targeted.

The upsurge in unionist violence followed media reports that a shipment of illegal weaponry was now in the hands of the LVF. The shipment is believed to have included submachine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, revolvers, handguns and a quantity of plastic explosives. The haul is believed to have been unloaded into a fishing boat before a vessel carrying the weaponry from the Middle East docked at Belfast port. Despite receiving a 'tip off', the PSNI and British Army failed to intercept the shipment.

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