IRA link to killing hits peace talks

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE ON the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to halt terrorist prisoner releases increased last night after the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary declared publicly that the IRA was responsible for the "despicable" killing last month of an alleged police informer.

With Mo Mowlam expected to deliver her verdict within the next 24 hours on whether the IRA has breached its ceasefire, Sir Ronnie Flanagan said he believed the republican terror group was responsible for shooting 22- year-old Charles Bennett, whose bound and gagged body was found on waste ground off the Falls Road.

The Chief Constable said: "I have no doubt that the IRA was involved in the murder of Charles Bennett. The Secretary of State has no doubt and I have no doubt what organisation was involved." Answering questions yesterday from young people during a BBC Northern Ireland television programme, Sir Ronnie added: "I have made it clear time and time again that these organisations which purport to be on ceasefire have been engaged in some of the most heinous acts of violence."

But he said it was not his job to say whether these were a breach of the ceasefire. He said: "That is a matter for the Secretary of State ... That's a matter for political judgement. The political impact of these groups engaging in acts of violence has to be left to the politicians."

While he stopped short of stating outright that the IRA had breached its ceasefire, his remarks placed intense pressure on Ms Mowlam as she prepared to make her most difficult decision since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Sir Ronnie's words were lent weight by the fact that he is one of the people who briefed Ms Mowlam on the situation, with the intelligence and security services, ahead of her decision. She has delayed an announcement until she had been briefed by sources in the Republic of Ireland and the United States on the discovery of an arms shipment.

The Northern Ireland Office has made clear that even if Ms Mowlam decides the ceasefire has been breached it would not mean the automatic expulsion of Sinn Fein from the peace talks. If she does make such a decision, however, it could bring the peace process to the brink of collapse. Sinn Fein has warned it could boycott the talks, and it would also damage relations with the Irish government, which believes the ceasefire is intact.

Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist Party's Ulster Assembly member, called on Ms Mowlam to exclude Sinn Fein from next month's review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and halt IRA prisoner releases. "What the Chief Constable has said is only the public confirmation of what everyone else has known for weeks," he said.

The Ulster Unionist Party's security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, said Ms Mowlam should be unequivocal in her repudiation of all IRA violence. "It is obviously helpful that we have that unequivocal statement [from the Chief Constable] but I don't think it changes anything a great deal except that it puts huge pressure on the Secretary of State to be unequivocal."

Unionists were angered yesterday by leaked details of plans to reform the RUC by Chris Patten, the former Governor of Hong Kong. The main recommendation is said to involve changing the force's name in an attempt to recruit more Catholics. The leak indicated that the Policing Commission will propose that all officers swear a new oath to a renamed "Police Service of Northern Ireland", dropping the reference to allegiance to the Queen. The RUC badge will be changed, its uniform redesigned and the Union flag will no longer be flown at stations.

Ulster Unionist MP John Taylor attacked the plans as "shocking" and warned of a "mas- sive campaign" to reject them.