More blood in Ulster as Trimble and Adams stonewall over peace

Click to follow
AS NORTHERN Ireland leaders clashed verbally in Washington yesterday over arms decommissioning, blood was once again spilt on the streets of Belfast as a leading loyalist figure was gunned down in the city.

His death, in the tough Protestant Shankill Road area, momentarily looked like a spasm of republican retaliation for this week's loyalist assassination of the nationalist solicitor Rosemary Nelson in Co Armagh.

Within hours, however, it emerged that he had been shot by fellow denizens of the loyalist paramilitary underworld.

It was reported that he had fallen out with former colleagues, possibly because he was too militant or possibly because they believed he had killed another loyalist figure.

The fact that he had been killed by loyalists rather than republicans caused an immediate easing in a build-up of tension caused by visions of a new tit-for-tat shooting war.

But the situation in both the political world and the paramilitary sphere is still regarded as highly volatile and unpredictable.

One small but violent group, the Red Hand Defenders, swore to take revenge on the Ulster Volunteer Force, which they blamed for the killing. The Red Hand Defenders have claimed they killed Rosemary Nelson.

As preparations went on for today's funeral of the solicitor, nationalist and Unionist leaders attacked each other verbally in Washington, where they were due to meet President Bill Clinton. The White House is hoping to help broker a solution to the impasse over the new Northern Ireland executive, which is deadlocked over the question of whether Sinn Fein can join without IRA arms decommissioning.

"It is not a question of whether, but a question of when," said David Trimble, the first minister-designate.

The Ulster Unionist leader insisted that without a first step on disarmament, Sinn Fein cannot join the executive. If there was pressure from outside for the executive to go ahead without decommissioning, "it won't last the day," he said. He called for Protestant paramilitaries to take the first step towards decommissioning.

But Mr Adams was equally clear the Good Friday Agreement did not require such a step. "The President knows as well as Mr Trimble that IRA de-commissioning is not a precondition for Sinn Fein to hold ministerial office," he said.

Brushing aside Mr Trimble's concerns, he said: "The demands he is making of me? I can't deliver those. He knows that. You know that. Everybody knows that." A further postponement for the new government beyond the 2 April deadline would be impossible, he added: "The British have already moved this deadline so many times they can't move it again."

But behind the scenes discussions have been going on about a possible formula to get around the problem. "The art of politics is to try and find the possible," said the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern.

The President was expected to tell Mr Adams and Mr Trimble they must yield ground. But there is suspicion and antagonism on both sides, and both believe the other is stonewalling for their own advantage. Mr Ahern, Mr Adams and Mr Trimble, along with the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, were at a St Patrick's Day dinner for the American-Ireland Fund in Washington on Tuesday night, and another vast party was to be held on the White House lawn last night. Mr Adams and Mr Trimble were also due to meet yesterday as part of the frenetic round of overlapping policy discussions and social events that mark the celebration of St Patrick's Day in Washington.

The man killed in Belfast was Frankie Curry, a leading figure in loyalist paramilitarism for two decades. He was shot by three men on waste ground around lunchtime.

He met his death at almost the exact spot where his uncle, Gusty Spence, shot dead a Catholic man in one of the first UVF killings in 1966. Yesterday the Red Hand Defenders said the UVF had killed Frankie Curry.

The dead man had been within the loyalist paramilitary mainstream until a few years ago, when he was said to have linked up with the renegade Billy Wright, known as "King Rat." When Wright's organisation declared a ceasefire, Curry was reported to have moved on to support other still- active organisation such as the RHD. Although the RHD yesterday threatened several senior loyalists by name, it claimed Curry was not one of their members. It remains to be seen whether the RHD will have the capacity to taken on the UVF, which is much larger and far better armed.

Killers try to wreck peace,

page 2