'The gunmen are savage, sinful, wicked, depraved': Ulster reeling as loyalists are rounded up after slaughter at pub

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The Independent Online
THE NIGHTMARE of Northern Ireland continued at the weekend with seven more killings heaping yet more shock, fear and grief on a population already numbed by a week of uninhibited bloodletting.

Loyalist gunmen plumbed new depths by calling out 'trick or treat' before spraying a Hallowe'en party in a Catholic pub with machine-gun fire on Saturday night.

One of the first people on the scene was Chief Superintendent William McKeown. He said: 'I have attended many incidents in my 30 years in the RUC, but I have seldom seen an incident such as this. These gunmen, they are savage, they are sinful, they are wicked, absolutely depraved. They acted like animals, slaughtering people out for a Saturday night drink.'

Last night a republican sniper attack on police in Newry, Co Down, in which an RUC officer was seriously injured, underlined that the IRA is showing no signs of ending its campaign.

The deaths in the Co Londonderry village of Greysteel brought the death toll to 23 since Saturday week. Ten people died in last Saturday's IRA bombing on Belfast's Shankill Road, and loyalists have now killed 13 in retaliation.

The Greysteel dead included a man in his 80s and a 19-year-old woman. Five injured are still in hospital: two women were last night in a critical condition in intensive care; two other women were ill but stable, and a man was comfortable. Yesterday, Greysteel remained dazed. Flowers were propped against the front wall of the bar. Inside, upholstery was peppered with bullet holes. The bar top was streaked by bullets. Tables and chairs remained overturned. And in the middle of the tiny dance floor lay a man's shoe and a woman's red court shoe.

The gunmen were described as 'rats' by the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, who said the security situation was serious but not out of control.

British and Irish politicians were yesterday promising that they would not be deflected from the search for peace. But for the moment much of Northern Ireland's population is simply living life day by day, concentrating on staying alive.

Yesterday security force patrols were stepped up around Catholic churches in many areas. Priests warned their flocks not to linger after Mass. A number of religious and social functions have been cancelled, either as a mark of respect for the dead or because of the fear of attack.

The RUC said eight suspects were being questioned in the wake of the Greysteel attack. Around 20 loyalists had been rounded up by police, particularly in the Belfast area, in the hope of disrupting the loyalist assassination squads.

A meeting between John Major and John Hume, the SDLP leader, now seems more likely after Mr Hume declared yesterday, in television interviews, that he stood ready to talk to the Prime Minister about his talks with the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. A Downing Street spokesman said: 'Although we have not received any formal request, the Prime Minister has made it repeatedly clear that his door is always open to leaders of all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland.'

Mr Major called the Greysteel incident 'yet another evil act of butchery'.

The Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, said: 'This slaughter of the innocents puts more pressure on us to accelerate our efforts to find a formula for the cessation of violence.'

Avenues for political progress will be reviewed in detail later this week with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, meeting in Belfast for a session of the Anglo-Irish conference.