IRA 'exploited riots to beat murder victim's friend'

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The Independent Online

The Ulster Defence Association said it was instructing its members to avoid confrontation and "steer away from any acts of violence".

The statement was welcomed as the first sign that the loyalist underworld might feel it had flexed its muscles sufficiently in the wake of last Saturday's controversial Orange parade in west Belfast. Early this morning the situation was said to have been calm.

But the security forces remained on full alert because the other major loyalist grouping, the Ulster Volunteer Force, has been the main source of the violence. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, acknowledged this last night when he moved to "specify" the UVF, thus formally accepting that its ceasefire is meaningless and at an end.

And in another sign of tension, there were claims that the IRA had used the cover of loyalist violence to attack a friend of Robert McCartney, the nationalist man who was killed during a bar brawl in Belfast at the start of the year.

The moderate nationalist SDLP said that Geoff Commander was beaten with iron bars on Monday night in the Short Strand area, close to the scene of the rioting. IRA members are believed to have been responsible for the McCartney murder and several republicans have been charged in connection with his killing. The IRA was also accused by the McCartney family and others of intimidating witnesses and launching a cover-up to prevent charges being laid.

The UVF has been responsible not just for much of the street violence, but also for four murders as it has pursued a feud against a rival paramilitary outfit, the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Mr Hain had resisted calls to specify the UVF on the ground that it was worth keeping open lines of communication even to groups involved in violence.

Mr Hain has been briefed by Sir Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, and received a dossier from the Independent Monitoring Commission on the state of the UVF ceasefire.

David Ervine, the leader of the Progressive Unionist party which represents the UVF politically, said the move was "tragic but hardly unexpected". He said it meant there would be more ground to cover once the UVF was restored to the political process and he complained that the IRA had not been specified. The Progressive Unionist party's allowances from the Northern Ireland Assembly have already been withheld because of UVF violence.

Traffic was again held up in Belfast as protesters blocked roads, mostly in the west of the city.Business and tourist interests have already begun to count the cost of disturbances, expected to run into the millions.

The local tourist board said: "Tourism here is dependent on a positive image but the television pictures broadcast reinforce an image which we had hoped was confined to the past."

The US consul general in Belfast, Dean Pittman, said he was " disheartened and saddened" by the violence of the past few days.

Up to 60 police officers have been injured in Belfast, and more than 60 arrests made during the rioting. Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland warned that his officers would continue to deal robustly with further outbreaks of disturbances. "No one wants to see their community suffer from damage caused by nights of violence," he said.

In its statement, the UDA called on politicians to use their influence for calm, adding: "We are instructing our own membership to avoid any confrontation on the streets and steer away from any acts of violence."

Sir Nicholas Winterton, the Tory MP, said Northern Ireland was now probably more divided than at any time. He claimed that the disturbances by loyalists had resulted from anger and frustration felt by people who seen " concession after concession made to Sinn Fein/IRA and the Republican movement ".

Stephen Farry, justice spokesman for the Alliance Party, said the UVF was "clearly out of control" and the Government had to recognise that its ceasefire was non-existent.

'I riot with the rest of them, for the fun of it'

One rioter talked freely and openly, standing 100 yards from his main target, the gates of New Barnsley police station, between the loyalist Upper Shankill and the Catholic Springfield Road.

He was no burly paramilitary, but a slim youth of 14 who plays football, is planning on doing GCSEs and fancies being a bus driver.

Why riot? "I riot; I riot with the rest of them. It's fun, the fun of it."

How is it fun? "Throwing at the peelers and then just wait for them blowing up. Throwing petrol bombs at them. Paint bombs, petrol bombs, we throw them."

Where did he get the bombs? "Paint bombs: just get a paint tin, get a bottle, put paint in it, throw it. Petrol bombs, can't say where we get them. They bring them round. I'm not saying who."

So why attack the police? "Don't like them at all; they wouldn't let the march go through. We call them black bastards, black balls, the pigs; there's loads of names like."

When asked if the police shouted insults back, as many local adults allege, the young rioter responded by shaking his head. "They try and tell you to move away, for your own safety," he replied.

"They catch fellas the odd time. Usually you're all right: you see, you throw, you run. If they try and chase you, you just run. My parents don't want me to riot with the peelers, in case I get scooped, but I still do it anyway."