BELFAST — Since late 2004, after the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) allegedly stole €33.5 million from a Belfast bank and IRA men murdered Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney, the world has once again turned much attention to the Northern Ireland peace process and the activities of the IRA and Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the group. This attention increased after 28 July, when the IRA publicly called an end to its war against British sovereignty over Northern Ireland, and on 26 September, when the group appointed to oversee the disarming of Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries said the IRA had given up all its weapons. But another community in Northern Ireland has recently gained much attention, as well. The Protestant community, though arguably less prominent internationally than its Catholic nationalist counterpart, makes up 56 per cent of the region’s population. Largely descended from Scottish Presbyterian and English Anglican settlers in the 17th Century, this majority seeks to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than see Northern Ireland become part of an all-Ireland state by merging with its economically more successful neighbor, which takes up five-sixths of the island.
DERRY — A leading former member of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist-loyalist paramilitary group was assassinated at his home in Belfast. Jim Gray, a former commander in the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), was shot late Tuesday several times at close range in his doorway by two gunmen. His killing came six months after his ouster from the UDA, of which he was a commander, following a dispute with his former colleagues. The 43-year-old ex-militant was out on bail and awaiting trial on money laundering and stolen property charges. Gray was arrested near the border of the Irish Republic in April, and was thought to be trying to leave Northern Ireland.
DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British unionist party reacted sceptically to an announcement on Monday that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had destroyed all of its weapons. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley said there was no real verification of IRA decommissioning in Monday’s announcement, adding it showed the duplicity and dishonesty of the British and Irish governments as well as of the IRA. Paisley said the Commission had simply taken the IRA’s word at face value. “Not one iota was given to verify that assurance,” he said. At a news conference earlier Monday, the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) said the IRA has completed its disarmament.
DERRY — In his first public interview since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) vowed to end its armed campaign in July, hardline Protestant unionist leader Ian Paisley on Sunday gave a positive assessment of the troubled region’s political future and said he would agree to meet the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Speaking to Irish state broadcaster RTE, Paisley said he believed peace in Ireland was possible in his lifetime. Paisley – the leader of Northern Irelands largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – has long been an ardent opponent of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland, and of the Catholic Church. He is now the leading political voice in pro-British unionism in Northern Ireland Paisley, who opposes the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended the over 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, went on to say he was willing to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady. Paisley’s political opposition to Irish nationalism has been influenced heavily by his religious opposition to Catholicism.
DERRY — On Monday a new grassroots campaign dubbed “Love Ulster” began disseminating newsletters across Northern Ireland aimed at denouncing alleged nationalist dominance of the political process. The Love Ulster campaign will disseminate 200,000 free newsletters across Northern Ireland, highlighting unionist concerns at political concessions granted to Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) since the latter’s statement that it was ending its nearly four-decade campaign of violence against British rule. In the days after the statement, the British government announced radical plans for demilitarization in Northern Ireland – a move unionists view as premature at best and a betrayal at worst. They see the disbandment of the British army’s Royal Irish Regiment as a move that will harm unionist culture. William Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Love Ulster campaign, told ISN Security Watch that unionists were “shocked at the speed of the [British] concessions [after the IRA statement].”
DERRY — The three Irish Republican Army (IRA) men who re-emerged in Ireland eight months after disappearing from Colombia, where they were due to face 17 years in prison, remain missing in Ireland. The whereabouts of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley – dubbed “The Colombian Three” – are still unknown six days after they revealed their return to an Irish television station. The men were sentenced to 17 years in prison in Colombia, convicted after an initial acquittal was overturned of training leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and of travelling on false passports. The Colombian vice-president and unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for the men to be extradited to Colombia to face their sentences.
DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has threatened to delay talks on restarting the stalled peace process. Meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday in London, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) outlined its position on political talks aimed at restoring the devolved government to Belfast. DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley said the party would require a “prolonged period of assessment” to ascertain whether the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had truly given up its armed campaign. He called for “total decommissioning that everyone can be satisfied with”. In contrast, Sinn Féin (SF) leader Gerry Adams, who met with Blair separately on Thursday, said he believed there was no reason devolution could not be reintroduced quickly.
DERRY — The British government has announced an overhaul of its military and security structure in Northern Ireland, pledging to halve its troops to just over 5,000, end army support for the police, and close down 26 of 40 army sites in the region. The move follows an announcement last week by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that it “formally ordered an end to the armed campaign” against British control of Northern Ireland. On Tuesday, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, said the British government’s pledged would be “achievable within two years” provided the “enabling environment is established and maintained.”
DERRY — Eighty police were injured last night as violence erupted in a Catholic-nationalist area of north Belfast after a day of Protestant Orange Order parades throughout Northern Ireland. Tensions were high in the run-up to the parade through the mainly nationalist Ardoyne area of north Belfast. While the morning parade passed off peacefully, the return of the Orangemen through the area on Tuesday evening proved troublesome. Last year, British Army units were attacked by nationalist rioters alleging a heavy-handed response to peaceful protests at the Orange Order march through the Ardoyne.