Gunmen murder five in Ulster

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The Independent Online
AS OPINION in the south of Ireland yesterday registered condemnation of the IRA in unusually strong terms, the grim news from the north was of continuing violence and five more deaths.

In a stark counterpoint to the calls for peace from Dublin, four Catholic workmen died in a particularly cold-blooded attack when loyalist gunmen poured automatic gunfire into their van in a quiet Co Londonderry seaside village.

Last night one man was killed and another injured in what appeared to be a loyalist shooting in a Catholic district of west Belfast. The men were outside a coal shop, when gunmen drew up in a car and opened fire. The dead man was named by friends as Dee Walsh, 18, from west Belfast.

In another development, the IRA agreed to a request to meet Gordon Wilson, the Fermanagh businessman whose daughter Marie was killed by the IRA's Enniskillen bombing in 1987. This was described as a ray of hope by the Republic's Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

Despite the flood of condemnation in the wake of the Warrington bombings, it is not considered conceivable that the IRA is contemplating any ceasefire. The deaths it caused in Warrington have however put the organisation under considerable pressure from its more faint-hearted supporters, who find no fault with military casualties but tend to draw the line at civilian deaths. However, the chief effect on IRA support is being felt in the south rather than the more battle-hardened north.

The effect of Warrington has already been lessened by an increase in loyalist violence, which culminated in yesterday's multiple killings in the village of Castlerock. The banned Ulster Defence Association admitted the killings, saying the men were republicans, and warning of its intention to intensify its campaign of violence.

Five workmen had just arrived in their van at a housing estate where they have for some months been carrying out renovation work. At least two gunmen jumped out of another vehicle and sprayed the van with bullets, fatally wounding four of the workers and seriously injuring the fifth. Witnesses told of finding bodies inside and outside the van, and of hearing men screaming.

Those killed were James McKenna and James Kelly, of Maghera; Gerry Dalrymple, of Rasharkin; and Noel Kane, of Swatragh. They were described by their employer as 'good, decent, hard-working men'. A Sinn Fein councillor, Patsy Groogan, said: 'These men were regularly stopped and harassed by the British forces. I have no doubt that this behaviour played a part in targeting these men for assassination.'

The recent build-up of loyalist violence saw overnight UDA grenade and firebomb attacks on the homes of Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors in Belfast and Banbridge, Co Down. On Wednesday a Sinn Fein member was shot dead as he arrived at work in west Belfast.

The UDA stressed that it regards as the enemy not just republican organisations such as Sinn Fein and the IRA but also constitutional parties such as the SDLP, which it described as part of a 'pan-nationalist front'. A statement warned: 'So long as the SDLP continue to exercise a veto on political progress in Ulster, courtesy of IRA violence, and so long as Sinn Fein/IRA continue to act as the military wing of Irish nationalism, then so long will our war against them continue and intensify.'

Loyalist attacks on republicans and Catholics traditionally serve to ease pressure on the IRA, which can more easily present itself as the defender of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. The loyalist violence has drawn widespread condemnation from political and church figures.

The decision of the IRA to meet Mr Wilson is not a surprise. The standard rhetoric of the IRA and Sinn Fein includes regular declarations that republicans are ready to talk to anyone at any time in the cause of lasting peace.

Republicans are particularly sensitive to Mr Wilson, being aware that he is a living reminder of civilian casualties inflicted by the IRA. Thus a letter from a Sinn Fein councillor, Mitchell McLaughlin, to Mr Wilson yesterday referred to 'the esteem and status that you enjoy in Irish society' and praised his courage.

Victim's father to meet IRA, page 2

Letters, page 21

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 22