Ulster Secretary condemns paramilitary 'shootings, beatings and expulsions'

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The Independent Online

John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary, yesterday condemned the exiling of young people by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, in his first statement on the issue.

A spokesman for Mr Reid said: "All beatings, shootings and expulsions which are carried out by paramilitaries are completely contrary to what the Good Friday Agreement is about.

"We condemn any activity by groups to force individuals on either side of the community to relocate elsewhere."

The Northern Ireland Secretary appealed to the victims of the expulsions and their families to co-operate with the reformed police service in Ulster to lift the death threats by the paramilitaries.

"These cases are often hampered by a refusal to make a formal complaint and without this evidence, it is difficult to establish who is responsible," the spokesman said. "It is very important that those involved pass information to the police in strict confidence."

The statement came in the wake of a report in this newspaper last week that the number of enforced exiles to mainland Britain had doubled to an estimated 900 cases.

The continuation of death threats against the exiles is seen as a test of public confidence in the reforms to the former Royal Ulster Constabulary, now called the Police Service of Northern Ireland. A cross-party group of MPs has called for the bans to be lifted.

It is also a test of the continuing peace process. Fears of a fresh wave of loyalist violence were heightened on Friday after a young Protestant man was killed handling a bomb. William Moore Campbell, 19, was found dying yards from his home in Winston Way, Coleraine, after a large pipe bomb exploded in his face.

There were other attacks in north Belfast and east Antrim, leading to speculation that the largest loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Defence Association, was plan- ning an upsurge in attacks against Catholics.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's national chairman Mitchel McLaughlin, yesterday called for talks with loyalists on constitutional steps towards a united Ireland.

The Foyle MLA told a conference of the party's elected representatives in West Belfast that as Sinn Fein's electoral strength grew on both sides of the Irish border they should now use it to bring about a united Ireland, which could accommodate the concerns of unionists.

Mr McLaughlin said the issue of a united Ireland was now "the core outstanding political debate" in Ireland, north and south. It could no longer be ignored, he argued.