Mortar assault raises stakes in peace vote

Republican dissidents step up attacks before Irish poll, as the Women's Coalition fights to make the voice of reason heard
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The Independent Online
A MORTAR attack launched by an increasingly active breakaway group from the IRA yesterday failed to damage a Belfast RUC station, or to disrupt the annual marathon race in the city. None the less, the incident, and an explosion on the Belfast-Dublin railway line, served as reminders that republican dissidents are intent on increasing the temperature in the run-up to this month's referendum on the Good Friday agreement.

The group involved is assumed to be an unnamed splinter which broke away from the IRA in recent months in protest at the peace process. It suffered its first casualty on Friday, when one of its members was shot dead by gardai during an attempted hold-up in Co Wicklow, not far from Dublin.

Five men were remanded in custody when they appeared at a special sitting of the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on charges connected with the attempted raid. They were charged with possessingweapons, including a Kalashnikov. The attack on the railway line was near the border at lunchtime yesterday, when there was a small explosion near the village of Cloghogue. Services were suspended while security forces examined the area.

Although three republican factions oppose the accord and the peace process generally, only one has the capacity to launch mortar attacks on the security forces. Part of the Belfast marathon had to be re-routed following the discovery of two mortar bombs near the route. Race organisers described the disruption as minor. It is believed the devices were fired at Grosvenor Road RUC station in west Belfast during the night.

The tussle within mainstream Unionism over the agreement is due to intensify today, when some of David Trimble's Ulster Unionist MPs are to join the Rev Ian Paisley for the formal launch of the No campaign.

A majority of the UUP's 10 MPs are against the accord, while the influential Orange Order has also reiterated its opposition. Representatives of the order are due to meet Tony Blair in London later this week, following a visit by the Prime Minister to Belfast tomorrow. The Orange Order said it had no option but to "advise the lodges that the many areas of difficulty in the agreement have not been satisfactorily resolved. Therefore the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland cannot recommend the agreement to the county grand lodges and members."

The Unionist MP Ken Maginnis said the decision did not reflect grassroots opinion, adding: "There have not been any objective debates within the order. It has been hijacked by a significant but comparatively small element and that's sad."