IRA faces blame for beating councillor

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THE REPUBLICAN movement was seriously embarrassed yesterday by claims that a severe beating inflicted on an SDLP councillor in south Armagh had been carried out by members of the IRA.

Although the movement issued three separate denials of responsibility, two through Sinn Fein and one through the IRA, the SDLP insisted that republicans were to blame.

John Fee, an SDLP councillor in Crossmaglen, was set upon by at least two men near his home on Thursday night. He suffered fractured ribs and head wounds in what appeared to be a planned attack.

Mr Fee, who was yesterday recovering in hospital, said he believed the incident had been designed to teach him a lesson after his condemnation of last weekend's IRA mortar attack which brought down an army helicopter in the town.

He said it followed growing criticism of the IRA in south Armagh after this reckless attack. 'The IRA, I believe, felt they had to create a very high- profile way of telling people, 'Keep your mouth shut'.'

A Sinn Fein councillor, Jim McAllister, said he was confident no republican was responsible, while Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, described it as unjustified.

Further condemnation came from the Irish president, Mary Robinson, on a one-day visit to Northern Ireland yesterday.

The Crossmaglen incident is puzzling in that while the IRA often carries out punishment beatings, these are generally directed at 'anti-social elements' such as alleged thieves.

Attacks on political opponents are much more unusual. On the other hand, the attack came in an area where the IRA is well-organised and strong.