800 people exiled from Ulster since peace deal

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The Independent Online
ALMOST 800 people have been "exiled" from Northern Ireland by Catholic and Protestant paramilitaries since the Good Friday peace agreement 16 months ago, say human rights campaigners. Two of the five latest exiles, brothers aged 16 and 18, arrived in England yesterday as Unionists blamed Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for her failure to declare a breach of the IRA ceasefire.

Last night, pressure increased further on Ms Mowlam after the IRA gave a 15-year-old boy 48 hours to leave Northern Ireland because, say his family, he was a "tearaway".

The exiles, Gerard Groogan, 18, his brother Martin, 16, Paul McDonald, 17, his 16-year-old cousin Barry, and a 22-year-old man, all from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, were ordered to leave by the IRA. But terrorists on both sides have been exiling people at the rate of 50 a month.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, a voluntary organisation run by a former IRA member, says 384 people have been forced out by the IRA and 372 by Protestant paramilitary groups such as the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Army.

In some cases, girls have been exiled for seeing the wrong boy. One boy had his throat cut and his family were exiled because his father got into a fight with a member of a paramilitary gang. And a 15- year-old boy was exiled for fighting in a school playground with the son of an influential republican.

Last night, David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists and Northern Ireland's First Minister, blamed Ms Mowlam for the latest expulsions because of her controversial decision that IRA violence against its own supporters did not breach the IRA ceasefire.

Mr Trimble said he had no doubt the threats made to the teenage boys were the consequence of Ms Mowlam's statement. "I don't think the Secretary of State realises the tremendous damage she has done in society," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend. "I've reason to believe the IRA were worried, and ought to have been worried, because they have broken their ceasefire. But unfortunately the Secretary of State evaded the issue, I'm sorry to say, and consequently the IRA now feel they can be even bolder in their breaches of the ceasefire."

The exile of the Ulster youths made it more difficult for Mr Trimble to defy his hardliners, who want to mount a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Secretary and stop the review of the peace process by George Mitchell, the former US senator, starting on 6 September. "I am, not surprised some people are questioning the wisdom of the review," he said. "To turn round and accept the IRA's standards of behaviour instead of the standards of civilised society is a mistake."

The Groogan brothers took a ferry from Belfast to Scotland on Saturday night, before the midnight deadline they had been given by the IRA, saying goodbye to their mother, Roseanne, and their father, Gerard, who has cancer. They were heading to England, where the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau finds short-term accommodation.

The Groogans hinted in the Sunday Mail they had been exiled because they stood up to the IRA. Gerard said: "We are just glad to be alive. We knew they were members of the IRA when we started fighting with them, but we didn't expect this. They're pure scum. Mo Mowlam has given them a licence to kill anybody they want. They warned us we'd be shot if we failed to obey their orders."

Mr Trimble is expected to reinforce his condemnation of Ms Mowlam's action this week in talks with Tony Blair. But the Ulster Unionist leader stopped short of threatening to boycott the review of the peace process by Mr Mitchell, who complains of government spin-doctoring and leaks in an interview to be broadcast before the review.

The Tory party chairman, Michael Ancram, called on the Government to halt the early release of republican prisoners. Failing to act because of a fear of threats of a return to violence created a situation where "in the end you get on to a tread-mill that is very difficult to get off, of concession after concession after concession", he said.