This amounts to the most intense and sustained assault ever seen on a particular political grouping. Three of the dead were Sinn Fein councillors, while there have been dozens of other attacks on party representatives.
Sinn Fein called yesterday for the authorities to supply some of its members with personal protection weapons. Many councillors from other parties are allowed to carry guns but, so far as can be established, no Sinn Fein member is permitted to do so.
It also seems that no Sinn Fein representatives have been given financial assistance to fit strengthened doors and windows to their homes. By contrast, the authorities have installed metal doors and bulletproof windows for members of other parties and individuals considered at risk.
On Sunday night, loyalist gunmen poured automatic gunfire through a window of the north Belfast home of Bobby Lavery, killing his 21-year-old son Sean. Mr Lavery's brother was shot dead last Christmas.
Republicans said Mr Lavery was warned by the RUC 10 days ago that loyalists intended to attack him, but that a request by him for permission to carry a legal weapon was refused.
The authorities are considered unlikely to issue personal protection weapons to members of a party which is the political wing of the IRA. An RUC spokesman said yesterday: 'All applications are considered on merit and on the particular circumstances of the individual case.'
A senior Unionist politician commented: 'You cannot possibly start giving weapons to people who are advocates and apologists of violence. It would be absolute folly.'
Many loyalist politicians have refrained from condemning the killings of Sinn Fein members and some have come close to commending loyalist gunmen. Many observers draw a distinction between the deaths of uninvolved Catholics and those of Sinn Fein people, arguing that joining such a party carries well-known risks.
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, said yesterday that the party had a right to mobilise and organise, adding: 'Membership of Sinn Fein should not mean the death penalty.'
The offensive against Sinn Fein is part of an increase in loyalist violence in recent years. Many of the other loyalist victims had no republican connections and were often chosen at random, while this year there have also been attacks on the non-violent Social Democratic and Labour Party.
Many political activists in Northern Ireland take considerable security precautions. Homes often have steel front doors, metal cages at the bottom of stairs and windows with thicknesses ranging from 11mm to 30mm. Mr Adams, who has been the subject of several assassination attempts, travels in an armoured black taxi.
(List of lethal loyalist attacks on Sinn Fein members, their families and associates omitted)Reuse content