Loyalists 'calmer' but killing may go on

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The Independent Online
SECTARIAN tensions in loyalist areas of Belfast are decreasing, according to Protestant ministers and councillors, although the prospect of further attacks on Catholics cannot be ruled out.

The anxieties stirred by the IRA cessation of violence appear to have settled, and hopes are high locally that the main loyalist groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association, are not about to embark on big offensives.

But continuing uncertainty about points arising from the ceasefire, together with the UDA killing of a Catholic man on Thursday night, mean, in the words of one Presbyterian minister: 'It's easing a bit, but it's still fingers crossed.'

President Clinton, who yesterday met the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, at his holiday home at Martha's Vineyard, confirmed that he was considering a substantial aid programme for Northern Ireland in support of the peace process. The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, may meet Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams within two weeks, according to reports from Dublin.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Mr Adams outlined his party's approach to talks which are expected to take place in the coming months. He said constitutional and political change was essential, advocating a process of inclusive negotiations without preconditions and with no pre-determined outcome. Sinn Fein wished to see a transformation of Irish society, he added.

Mr Adams said demilitarisation should begin immediately, declaring that the army and RUC were not acceptable in nationalist areas in Ulster. Asked about his party's declared goals of seeking an end to British jurisdiction in Ireland and an end to partition, he replied: 'I think the possibilities of a united Ireland, given that eveything else has failed, are very, very real.'

The cautious nature of Protestant optimism was illustrated in caveats in the comment of north Belfast loyalist councillor Nelson McCausland, who said: 'My feeling is, and of course one can't be certain about these matters, but my feeling is that over a period of time now, and one hopes it is a fairly short period, that the level of loyalist violence will reduce dramatically and tail off and end.'

The hoped-for 'tailing off' period could last for some time, however, and in the meantime most attention is focussed on the UDA, whose leadership has of late been more militant than that of the UVF. Last year the former was responsible for a total of 32 deaths, while the latter killed 14 people.

Figures associated with the UVF have lately been appealing for calm and an end to violence, while the UDA has remained ominously quiet, and in some areas an organised campaign of graffiti-writing threatens more violence.

Working-class districts may have been reassured by the soothing words of Ulster Unionist party leader James Molyneaux, and by John Major's quick action in announcing he was 'livid' about the transfer of republican prisoners from Britain to Northern Ireland.

The man killed by the UDA was John O'Hanlon, a Catholic in his early 30s who had a three-year-old son. The evidence suggests that he had been chosen at random by his assassins.

Labour softens line, page 2