The threat is being taken seriously by the authorities, since the organisation has on many occasions demonstrated an ability to make violent come-backs after periods of inactivity. Although much smaller than the IRA and almost certainly incapable of waging a sustained campaign at a high level, its capacity for launching occasional lethal attacks is not in question. It has in the past been responsible for a small number of incidents in Britain. Among the most notorious were the murder of a special constable in North Yorkshire in the early 1990s.
An INLA statement said: "We cannot look on idly as the British cynically draw out and fudge attempts at a negotiated settlement while the full oppressive apparatus of the state is employed against the nationalist working class. Neither can we allow our reluctance to be sucked into a cycle of violence to be misconstrued as a sign of weakness."
The statement said that as from midday yesterday, its units had been placed on standby and would operate "from a position of defence and retaliation." The emphasis on defence is explained by the fact that the organisation is wracked by internal conflicts which have caused several recent deaths.
This means that a fair amount of its energies are likely to be occupied in feuding rather than attacks on the security forces or loyalist elements. Three people have died recently, the first of whom was Gino Gallagher, one of the organisation's most notorious gunmen.
This led first to the retaliatory murder of a Belfast man in a County Donegal caravan site, and then the accidental killing of a nine-year-old girl. She was shot dead in north Belfast by men who were apparently trying to kill a relative.
The INLA was almost completely quiet during the 17-month IRA ceasefire, although many members did not agree with the peace process. The IRA is assumed to have warned the smaller organisation to halt its violence.
But the ending of the IRA cessation and the tensions generated by the present feud, seem to have brought about yesterday's announcement. The section of the INLA which made the statement appears to be the larger part of the organisation. The strength of the other dissident faction is not known.
n The Sinn Fein annual conference, which takes place in Dublin this weekend, will have as its centrepiece a keynote speech by the party president, Gerry Adams. The BBC in Belfast yesterday quoted an IRA source describing John Major's election proposal as a "unacceptable", saying the scheme provided no dynamic for a resolution of the conflict.Reuse content