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29 January 1998 Edition

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Questions for Mowlam, RUC

UDP leader Gary McMichael walked away from London's Lancaster House, declaring his party was not walking away from its responsibilities. With the UDA blatantly operating under the name of the LVF for weeks, the UDP had not been running away as much as cynically covering up its responsibility.

As RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan continued to ignore Sinn Fein's calls for the release of forensic evidence which would dispel or confirm the UDA's involvement in sectarian killings, it was clear there was collusion in covering the UDP's tracks.

Even a day prior to Flanagan's statement, the UDP felt sufficiently confident in the RUC's continuing acquiescence to publicly call for evidence against the UDA to be produced. It was a bluff too far.

Growing public outcry and the weight of circumstantial evidence linking the UDA with sectarian killings rendered the RUC's position untenable. In a hurriedly organised press conference on Thursday 22 January, Ronnie Flanagan told the media, ``I have no doubt that a number of recent murders have been carried out by the UFF (cover name for the UDA).'' Flanagan linked the UDA with the murder of Ben Hughes, Eddie Treanor and Larry Brennan.

Eddie Treanor had been killed on New Year's Eve. Why did it take over three weeks for the RUC to confirm that he had been killed by the UDA? Moreover, it has been reported that Mowlam was aware that the UDA was responsible from 12 January.

The political cat was out of the bag but by linking the UDA with only three killings, the RUC were still into damage limitation. The British government dithered as calls for the expulsion of the UDA's political representatives, the UDP, escalated into a crescendo.

The UDA were into damage limitation too. In a statement they admitted involvement in recent sectarian killings, claiming they had been ``provoked by republicans.'' The UDA dismissed the mass sectarian slaughter of recent weeks as ``a measured response'' and claimed ``that response was now over.'' Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness reflected nationalist anger when he described the UDA statement as ``an affront to the relatives of those Catholics who have been killed''.

In an 18 month period 19 people, 14 of them Catholics, have been killed by loyalists.

Within hours of issuing its statement, the UDA was back on the streets of Belfast, returning to the strategy of ``no claim, no blame''.

Mo Mowlam and the RUC have questions to answer.


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