26 February 1998 Edition
Bombs explode as peace talks falter
In a statement released to RTE in Dublin on Monday night 23 February, the IRA said, ``we reiterate that the complete cessation of military operations which began at midday on Sunday 20 July last year remains intact''.
The IRA statement was released within hours of a massive car bomb exploding in the centre of Portadown and three days after a 500lb bomb detonated late on Friday night in Moira, a small County Down town. In Belfast, Gerry Adams told reporters he was sure the IRA cessation remained in place, ``there is nothing to suggest to me that the IRA has breached its cessation,'' he said.
The Portadown bomb attack occurred at 11.59am when upwards of 500lbs of explosives packed into a BMW car detonated in Edward Street, near the town's RUC barracks. A 40 minute warning had been given and no one was injured as the bomb ripped through the town's commercial centre. A number of shops which took the brunt of the attack were destroyed while others were severely damaged by the blast and by subsequent fires.
Some of the buildings had only just been refurbished after an IRA bomb exploded in the North Armagh town in 1993.
The bomb which exploded in Moira on Friday night 20 February is estimated to have contained 500lbs of explosives. The bomb, carried to the scene in a jeep, was aimed at the town's RUC barracks and ripped through the building reducing it to ``a mangled wreck''. A 20 minute warning ensured evacuation of the target area. The explosion, which was heard 15 miles away, injured seven RUC members and four civilians. None of the injured were badly hurt.
Meanwhile the death of Lurgan Catholic Kevin Conway has prompted media speculation as to who abducted and shot dead the 30 year old father of four on Wednesday 18 February. Local Sinn Fein Councillor John O'Dowd was under no illusions. In a statement he said, ``I have made a number of inquiries surrounding the disappearance of Mr Conway. I am satisfied that loyalists are responsible for the killing. I am calling on RUC boss Flanagan to release the full facts surrounding who killed the Catholic father of four. The RUC boss is untypically hesitant to apportion blame in this as opposed to his eagerness in other recent killings.''
The RUC has refused to describe the killing as sectarian. Mr Conway, from Lurgan's Kilwilkie estate, was found bound hand and foot at Aghalee, a notorious area where loyalists have been active in recent years. A young Catholic girl Bernadette Martin and taxi driver Michael McGoldrick were both killed nearby.
IRA dismisses media reports
By Stephen Mallon
Banner headlines, in-depth coverage, emotive language. Moira was ``a village in shock'' after ``a night of terror''. ``I thought I was going to die...'' reported the Belfast Telegraph, eyewitnesses were ``terrified'', RUC officers frantic.
``Portadown blitzed,'' ran the Newsletter, ``Children fled for their lives....parents waited in agony''. In ten pages of coverage, the LVF mass murder bid in the County Louth village of Dromad was consigned to the bottom corner of page eight.
Unlike the Moira and the later Portadown bomb no warnings were given by the loyalist bombers who also sent parcel bombs containing commercial explosives to nationalist families in Ardoyne and Toomebridge. Significantly, the distinction between attacks on Unionist property as opposed to targeting Catholic lives was lost in the media furore which followed the bombing of Portadown and Moira.
Compare the saturation coverage to that given to the deaths of seven nationalists after Christmas. Even this week questions about Dromad, Ardoyne and Toomebridge were pushed aside. No Unionist was asked to comment, no loyalist cross examined, there were no editorials questioning the impact of loyalist violence on the peace process. The spotlight was on Republicans.
``Trimble blames Provos for both bomb attacks,'' reported the Newsletter. The bombings were ``the IRA's response for not getting its own way'', said Trimble. Meanwhile, Billy Hutchinson was issuing a ``stark warning''. Sinn Fein must ``get their militarists back under control,'' said Hutchinson. David Ervine was talking of IRA splits.
The media was up and running, and the agenda was Unionist. Ulster Unionists insisted, Sinn Fein could not be readmitted into the talks.
It was time to put the record straight. An IRA statement released to the media on Monday night had already reiterated their complete cessation remained intact.
An IRA source has since discounted suggestions that the recent bombings are evidence of a split in the organisation. The source has told An Phoblacht that whilst suggestions of a split are ridiculous there are clear indications that people outside the organisation are attempting to dictate the IRA agenda by the use of old IRA code words and technology. The source also ridiculed reports that the IRA has satellitte organisations or assisted other groups.
Affirming that the IRA operated as a single organisation the source asserted that no one outside the IRA would be allowed to determine its agenda. He indicated that whilst the IRA remain open-minded as to who was involved in the recent bombings the more important question is to ask to whose agenda are they working.
What is clear is that since the inception of the peace process republicans have been determining their own agenda - and will continue to do so. As Gerry Kelly said at Sinn Fein's rally at Belfast City Hall on Sunday, ``there is no exit strategy''. There is a peace strategy and republicans are now saying to the unionists, the loyalists and the British Government that the time has come for them to engage and that the British must take responsibility, lead from the front and get real negotiations underway.
The interesting dimension to recent events is that we have the media and unionists picking up the gauntlet for those loyalists who are threatening the collapse of the peace process and warning us to beware of ``retaliation and revenge''.
Billy Hutchinson has become the more vocal of these cheerleaders. He ``fears'' the loyalist ceasefire is ``going quickly down the tubes'', that Sinn Fein must ``control their militarists'' or they could be ``unleashing a war that hasn't been seen before''.
Billy's logic is clear: it is Croppies Lie Down... or else. But once again Billy is missing the point. He would do well to understand that at the centre of this process must be equality. The process can't survive without it.