Sinn Fein remains defiant over renewed IRA violence

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The Independent Online

Sinn Fein yesterday responded defiantly to recent waves of criticism - from both Unionist and nationalist opponents, as well as the Government - of recent IRA violence in Belfast.

But the Republican party, gathered for its annual conference in Dublin, offered no definitive response on why IRA violence was still going on, most recently with the attempted abduction of a dissident republican.

Instead, its counter-attacks took the form of criticism of the British Government, which it accused of collusion with violent loyalist groups, and of Unionist parties for their own alleged misdeeds.

Last week's attack in a Belfast bar on Bobby Tohill, a Republican dissident, has been dismissed by some in Sinn Fein as "a fight in a pub." There is, however, no doubt that it was an IRA operation and little doubt that the intent was not to inflict a "punishment" shooting or beating, but to kill him.

The IRA has indicated that the incident was not authorised by its leadership, but, significantly, there has been no denial that IRA personnel were involved. Four men have been charged in connection with the incident.

The event has placed another question mark over the already slight prospects for progress in the political review of the Good Friday Agreement which is going on in Belfast.

The Ulster Unionists' leader, David Trimble, has threatened to leave the talks this week unless Tony Blair takes action against Sinn Fein to penalise republicans for IRA violence. A Trimble walk-out would be a blow to the talks though not a fatal once, since he is no longer a key figure in the talks process. That position is now held by the Rev Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party, which overtook Mr Trimble in last year's Assembly elections.