Paramilitary gangs face crackdown

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The Independent Online
A CONCERTED strike against paramilitary groups who reject the mandate for peace given by the referendums on the Good Friday agreement is now imminent, according to Irish government sources.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, is making no secret of his conviction that the message delivered in overwhelming majorities by the electorate will strengthen the security forces' hand in clearing up the remaining threat of violence from the Continuity IRA, the INLA, and the larger embryonic force headed by former IRA leaders, associated with the hardline 32 County Sovereignty Committee.

It is now seen by garda intelligence experts as the largest threat to peace. Speaking after the 94.4 per cent "Yes" vote was confirmed in the Irish Republic, making an 85.5 per cent majority across the island, Mr Ahern said that the result bestowed "not just political force but true moral force" on the settlement.

Addressing those who continue to carry out acts of violence he said: "Forget it. The people on whose behalf you claim to act have spoken. We cannot allow a handful of people try to work against what 85 per cent of the people thought was important."

Describing Friday as the voters' "appointment with history", Mr Ahern last week sought the strongest possible backing to remove any "perceived mandate" republicans believed they could claim from the last time Ireland voted together in the 1918 Westminster elections.

The Taoiseach believes that earlier vote, seen by generations of republicans as the only valid expression of national self-determination by the country as a whole, has been superseded by a clear national preference for democratic methods and the pursuit of unity by consent only.

In the December 1918 poll, Sinn Fein took 73 of the island's 105 seats. Sinn Fein became Dail Eireann in January 1919.

The "Yes" vote would, Mr Ahern signalled, deliver authority for a security crackdown on anyone trying to wreck a properly endorsed agreement. In iron-fist language, he said they would "crush" anyone trying to overturn the public will.

Mr Ahern invoked the memory of previous Fianna Fail leaders Eamon de Valera - who during the Second World War had six IRA rebels shot and interned over 500 and had another 600 committed under emergency Offences Against the State legislation - and his successor as Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, who operated a similarly tough suppression of the IRA with internment during its 1956-62 border campaign.

His message had many wondering if he was even suggesting internment, but this implication was privately played down.

Privately, Dublin government sources told The Independent they expected the referendum results to encourage many formerly associated with republican paramilitaries discreetly to assist security forces. There is some evidence that this is already happening.

Changing attitudes were vividly demonstrated recently when an alleged Continuity IRA bank robber in Derry was beaten up by a pro-ceasefire Provo. And gardai have been enjoying a series of successes, intercepting a series of car bombs and numerous caches of arms and explosives.