Trimble demands an end to the IRA's 'fatwas'

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF exiles - banished from Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups - are to be the focus of an international campaign to help them return home.

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister, and Harry Barnes MP - who spearheaded the recent campaign to stop punishment beatings - are among 40 dignitaries who will this week launch a campaign to pressure the paramilitaries to allow the exiles to return safely to Northern Ireland.

The exiles, both Protestant and Catholic, are often told to leave the country within hours or face death. They are frequently exiled to send signals to others about the penalties for not cooperating with terrorists.

The exiles include families whose members have refused to cooperate with terrorists and Protestant-Catholic couples who have been banished from Northern Ireland for marrying out of their faith. Many of them have previously suffered so-called punishment beatings.

This week the plight of the exiles will be raised in the House of Commons and Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, will be asked to call on the paramilitary groups to drop their vendettas.

"Throughout the last 30 years many hundreds of Irish people have fled because they have fallen foul of either loyalist or republican paramilitary organisations," said Chris Hudson, Chairman of the Irish Peace Train organisation. "To be exiled from Ireland is a very emotional concept for Irish people. To clearly demonstrate that the 'war' is now truly over our exiles must be allowed to come home."

According to groups working with the exiles, most want to return to Northern Ireland but fear retribution. Some are IRA informers who have "fatwas" on their heads if they return. But the exiles are victims of both loyalist and republican groups.

One group helping people who have been driven out of Northern Ireland is the Christian Maranatha Community, a non-denominational, Christian charity. It has resettled hundreds of people in the UK, although it refuses to work with criminals.

"We receive people who are in trouble, who have been expelled by the paramilitaries," said Dennis Wrigley, leader of the community. "Someone comes round and says you have until midnight to leave or you are dead. Two weeks ago a family were told to leave a house they had lived in for 30 years at six hours notice at gunpoint."

Exile is one of the biggest unresolved sectarian issues in Northern Ireland. It is to be raised in the Irish parliament this week and paramilitaries will be asked to discuss a resolution to the problem. Campaigners are hopeful because of the success of recent pressure to end punishment attacks.

"People power shamed the IRA into halting mutilation attacks. People power should now focus on allowing all those exiled by terrorism to return home in time for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement," said harry Barnes MP. "Ending the Irish Fatwas will be a massive confidence building boost for the peace process."