Three deaths in two days saw the cycle of tit-for-tat killings return to the streets of Northern Ireland. The latest victim, a Catholic taxi firm employee was gunned down as he sat in his car just yards from the offices of Enterprise Taxis on Ormeau Road, Belfast. Larry Brennan, aged 52, from the Markets area of the city, was hit four times in his upper body and died later in hospital.
He was the second man to be killed in the city in less than 12 hours and although no organisation immediately admitted responsibility, police blamed loyalists and said they believed the taxi driver had been killed in retaliation for the Irish National Liberation Army killing of Jim Guiney, 38, who had links to the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association. Last night Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, admitted: "We are facing a serious situation."
The shootings took place as the Government was seeking to calm and steady the peace process after recent turmoil, with Tony Blair meeting Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Downing Street to hear their criticisms of the direction of political talks.
Mr Blair was told by the delegation that the situation in Ulster was "grave", while the Prime Minister insisted that the peace process would not be derailed by the latest in a series of sectarian murders.
The Stormont multi-party talks, which were supposed to get down to business on a detailed agenda, were adjourned for a time when news of the INLA shooting came through. Mr Guiney, was a family friend of Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic party, which is the political wing of the UDA. He was married with four children. Those involved in the talks now face the task of carrying on vital negotiations at a time when the din of war is all too audible from the streets outside.
Mr Guiney was at work in his carpet shop at Dunmurry, south Belfast when a number of INLA gunmen entered and shot him several times. They ran off to make their getaway in a car later found burning in a republican area of west Belfast.
The INLA was responsible for last month's killing of leading loyalist Billy Wright inside the Maze prison. Five Catholics have now been killed in retaliation. Security had already been stepped up as the cycle of killings continued, and will now be reviewed again.
The INLA does not regard itself as being on ceasefire and is against the present peace process. It would regard the collapse of the talks as a victory.
Mr McMichael said last night: "What we have here is a bunch of lunatics in the INLA who are trying to bring our entire society back into war again. I don't think that any of us are safe. There are people out there who are hell-bent on bringing further violence. Except for keeping our wits about us there is very little we can actually do."
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