IRA attack sparks fears of loyalist retaliation: Cycle of violence in Ulster appears set to continue despite shock over pub murders

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The Independent Online
FEARS OF further extreme Protestant violence in Northern Ireland were heightened yesterday when the IRA staged a rocket attack on police in the vicinity of two loyalist funerals.

Although no one was injured in the attack staged by an IRA team that crossed the peaceline from the Falls into the Shankill district of Belfast, the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force is likely to regard it as a provocation.

Last week, the UVF killed eight people, six of them in the Saturday night attack on a Catholic pub in Loughinisland. The ferocity of its response became clear yesterday when Colin Craig, one of two loyalists shot dead by gunmen from the Irish National Liberation Army, was given a UVF funeral.

The UVF clearly took this attack as a personal affront and set out to avenge it on a large scale. A number of Unionist councillors attended the funerals, though the media were advised to stay away.

Only hours before the IRA rocket attack, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, had said there should be no republican retaliation against ordinary Protestants. In IRA terms this approach does not preclude the organisation from attacking the security forces, those it designates as extreme loyalists, or a variety of other targets.

Last night the landlords of two Belfast pubs reported a falling-off of business in the wake of the latest cycle of violence. One said: 'Some of the regulars are in all right, but there's a lot less people in. It'll be like this until the tension eases a bit.'

In Loughinisland, the owner of the bar where 11 men were shot on Saturday night broke down as he surveyed his bloodstained pub. Hugh O'Toole wept openly as he tried to talk to the media outside his bar. He had left the bar some hours before the attack, flying out with seven regular customers to Romania, where they were to help build an orphanage. All of those who were killed and injured were regular customers whom he regarded as friends.

One of the five injured in the incident remains in a critical condition in hospital. The funerals of all six who were killed take place in and around Loughinisland today.

Meanwhile, another UVF victim, an Antrim taxi-driver, Gerry Brady, was buried yesterday. At the funeral, Fr Edward O'Donnell called on Protestants and Catholics to stand together, saying that they could demonstrate that genuine Christianity had no place for sectarianism.

A number of members of the Royal Irish Regiment were among loyalist suspects arrested by the RUC early yesterday. They are being held for interrogation about serious crimes in the mid-Ulster area, though police indicated the arrests had been planned for some days and were not related to the Loughinisland incident.

A Catholic man had a lucky escape in south Belfast when a gunman's weapon jammed during an assassination attempt. The man was making a grocery delivery when a masked man appeared and pointed a gun at him. No one was injured in the incident.

Yesterday, Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, would not rule out a return to internment without trial. He said the power to intern remained on the statute book not for cosmetic purposes but because the Government believed it might be necessary in certain circumstances.

Sir Patrick may have been concerned to emphasise that the Government is taking the security situation seriously rather than signalling that such a move is on the cards. John Major, who is said to have been shocked and appalled by the killings, is expected to have a discussion on Northern Ireland with the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, when they meet at a European summit in Corfu this week.

Mr Adams, speaking in a BBC interview, said that Sinn Fein would be responding within days to the Downing Street declaraton and outlining its hopes for the peace process.