Murdered man 'was a witness in loyalist feud'

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The Independent Online

A man shot dead by Protestant paramilitaries in Northern Ireland at the weekend was a potential witness in a court case arising from a shooting in a loyalist paramilitary feud.

John Henry McCormick, a 25-year-old Catholic, was shot by two men who forced their way into his home in a predominantly Protestant housing estate in the Co Londonderry town of Coleraine on Saturday night. His pregnant partner and their four young children were in the house, which was damaged in a pipe bomb attack three weeks ago.

Mr McCormick is thought to have been killed by loyalists who feared he might testify against people accused of shooting an 11-year-old girl during a loyalist feud last year.

Saturday's shooting came as an uneasy peace pervaded the Ardoyne district of north Belfast, where scores of police officers were injured during rioting last week. Local leaders hope that violence will not flare again before children go on holidays at the end of the week.

The atmosphere in Northern Ireland is one of apprehension, given violent incidents such as the weekend killing and the overall mood of political uncertainty.

The Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, reiterated yesterday that he would resign as Northern Ireland's First Minister next Sunday unless IRA decommissioning took place. He said: "If the IRA don't actually start decommissioning in the next few days, which seems unlikely, I will step down as First Minister. I won't step down as party leader ­ I intend to continue doing that for some time to come."

The IRA has made clear there is no prospect of it taking action in response to Unionist ultimatums.

Mr Trimble was formally re-elected as party leader on Saturday, when none of his potential successors mounted a challenge. The sense is widespread, however, that he will be out of the post by the end of the year.

That perception has causedspeculation that Mr Trimble's long-term future may lie in the Conservative Party. This is an entirely plausible scenario, given that he would have no obvious role in Northern Ireland as a former leader, and given that he is keenly interested in British politics.

More immediately, however, the question arises of what happens if he steps down as First Minister. He has made clear that his intention is not to bring down the Belfast Assembly and the Executive that administers Northern Ireland.

The belief is that the resignation would lead to a six-week period of negotiations before suspension or Assembly elections had to be called.