The Loyalist Volunteer Force last night claimed responsibility for the murder of 31-year-old Eddie Treanor in a second retaliatory strike after the Maze killing of their leader. And their statement warned: "This is not the end."
The attack by two masked men in the packed Clifton Tavern in a Catholic area of North Belfast, shortly after 9pm on Wednesday night, intensified the pressure on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, to offer a concession to the loyalists. They are demanding a full public inquiry into the INLA assassination of Billy Wright inside the high-security Maze prison.
Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is involved in the cross-party peace talks, warned that his party would pull out before the talks recommence on 12 January, unless Ms Mowlam made concessions to the Loyalists. He said he wanted concessions to be addressed at a meeting between the PUP and Irish ministers next Wednesday.
Demands for a public inquiry were put to Ms Mowlam by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, at an angry meeting hours before the killing. She is considering the appeal and now might find the pressure for some concession to the loyalists too great to resist.
The pressure was intensified by the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Andrew Mackay, who called for the planned internal inquiry into security at the Maze to be started immediately and for its remit to be widened.
The PUP is one of the parties which has expressed concern that the process has not been "even-handed" between Unionists and republicans. Mr Hutchinson said that problem had to be addressed. "It would be my opinion that if they don't deal with that on 12 January, the PUP will be missing from the talks."
Fears are growing that the republicans will now feel obliged to retaliate for the two loyalist murders since Billy Wright was killed on Saturday. The Loyalist Volunteer Force carried out an attack on a crowded hotel within hours of Wright's death, killing doorman Seamus Dillon, 45. It claimed responsibility for that attack.
The threat to the peace process is also increased by the risk that the loyalist ceasefire could end. Reports in Belfast suggest that when the prisoners released from the Maze for Christmas return to prison today, the UDA inmates will vote on whether to abandon the ceasefire. David Ervine, of the Ulster Progressive Unionist party which has links to the UVF, admitted there were people who wanted the ceasefire to end.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he blamed the British Government. "At the moment we're seeing confidence building measures, concessions, doled out like sweeties, outside the process. They should be housed within the process."
John Hume, the SDLP leader, said the object of the latest killings was to derail the talks. "That should strengthen the will not only of all the political parties but of the vast majority of people not to be knocked off course and to remain firmly committed to reaching agreement in a totally peaceful atmosphere."
Gerry Kelly, who is on the Sinn Fein team in the multi-party talks, condemned the pub attack, saying: "The peace process is shattered."Reuse content