Brutal murder raises question of whether loyalist paramilitary ceasefire has any chance of holding


A MILITANT and maverick UVF commander in mid Ulster is being blamed for the murder of Catholic taxi driver, Mr Michael McGoldrick, near Lurgan, Co Armagh, sometime late on Sunday night or early yesterday morning.

The UVF leader, whom the central UVF leadership has had persistent difficulty in controlling, operates in the Portadown Lurgan area. This year and last, he was central in organising loyalist protests separate from the Orange protests.

The loyalist figure has either been directly responsible for, or orchestrated, several murders in the mid Ulster area over the period of the troubles. He has been a thorn in the side of the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) which has been unable to bring him to book.

Whether this spells the end of the loyalist paramilitary ceasefire is still unclear. Up to late last night, no paramilitary organisation had admitted the killing although security sources, politicians and loyalist sources were in no doubt that loyalist paramilitaries were responsible.

A UDA source blamed the mid-Ulster commander for Mr McGoldrick's murder. "He has just been waiting for an excuse, and Drumcree has provided him with one. He did this for his own selfish reasons, not for loyalism," said the UDA source, who favours maintaining the ceasefire.

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which has a direct line to the UVF, has admitted on a number of occasions that the loyalist ceasefire in mid Ulster is vulnerable. Since the collapse of the IRA ceasefire these mid-Ulster UVF elements, and other UVF members in the Belfast area, have been agitating for a return to loyalist violence.

In March, Sunday Life reported the emergence of a loyalist splinter group in mid-Ulster, which described the ceasefire as a farce, and threatened to kill Sinn Fein and IRA members. The paper featured a photograph of a hooded, armed paramilitary. It is believed that the UVF mid-Ulster commander was behind this purported splinter group, whose spokesman said was "neither UVF nor UDA".

Mr Billy Hutchinson of the PUP said he had been assured the UVF was not involved in the killing and was adhering to the CLMC ceasefire. If it was carried out by renegade loyalists, he was sure the UVF would investigate.

If the CLMC can blame dissident factions for the murder, or if it can be branded a "freelance" sectarian murder, then perhaps the loyalist ceasefire may hold. But there are so many other dangerous elements in the current political and paramilitary equation that the possibility of it holding is becoming more problematic.

The chief difficulty is that the CLMC does not exercise the same authority it had when it called the loyalist ceasefire 21 months ago.

The PUP has been stressing that no one should underestimate the volatility of the situation. The UVF has admitted difficulty in keeping its forces at heel. The Drumcree stand off, and the violence flaring throughout Northern Ireland, just adds to its control difficulties.

The UDA, which somewhat surprisingly has been able to maintain central discipline, equally is under pressure from within its ranks.

"UDA members particularly recent recruits, are not the most political of animals at the best of times. It's very difficult to predict what will happen in the coming days," the UDA source said.

He underlined the overall dangers by revealing that after the IRA Manchester bombing last month, the UVF requested a meeting of the UVF and UDA leadership under the aegis of the CLMC. "The UDA refused the meeting because it just could not believe what it was being told by the UVF. The UDA decided it would follow its own path," he said.

"The fact is the UVF has been unable to control some of its factions. Everything is now up in the air," the source added.

He was scathing of the mainstream unionist parties which he claimed were not interested in trying to reach political agreement at the Stormont talks. "Sometimes I think they are more comfortable with conflict," he said.

An additional element to the equation is how the IRA and the INLA will respond. While the IRA has been operating a de facto ceasefire in Northern Ireland, Mr McGoldrick's murder, and potential future loyalist violence, could present the upper hand to those in the IRA who favour a resumption of its violent campaign in the North.

One of the IRA's arguments for refusing to decommission is that it will not leave Catholic areas "undefended from loyalists". Equally, the INLA has warned in the past that it will strike against those who target Catholics.

The Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, has appealed for calm in recent days. He said yesterday. "Those who have orchestrated the events at Drumcree and the campaign of protests across the North cannot wash their hands of responsibility for the threats and violence and the death which have occurred as a consequence.

He said dialogue was now urgently needed between nationalists and unionists. "Last year and again some months ago, I wrote to the Rev Martin Smyth (Orange Grand Master) suggesting that we meet. I would still like to arrange such a meeting because I believe that this issue can only be effectively tackled if an accommodation can be found which applies to every situation."

There seemed little likelihood of such a meeting last night. The Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the DUP argue that elements within what they call "Sinn Fein/IRA" are involved in keeping the Garvaghy residents on the boil.

The Garvaghy Residents Association denies this. Their protest is simply a case of beleaguered nationalists demanding respite from Orange marches which are bitterly resented in their area, they state.

The UUP and DUP leaders, Mr David Trimble and the Rev Ian Paisley condemned Mr McGoldrick's murder. Mr Trimble did not accept that the accusations from Mr McGoldrick's family that "fire and brimstone" speeches from certain politicians contributed to Mr McGoldrick's death was an indictment of the mainstream unionist parties' role in the Drumcree standoff.

Mr Trimble said he had consistently urged loyalist paramilitaries not "to be provoked or manipulated into violence". He did not know who killed Mr McGoldrick, although he suspected loyalist paramilitaries were to blame.

The Drumcree stand off was not of the Orange Order's seeking, he said. The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, had made the wrong decision in re-routing the march. He said that "those handful of people who came to Drumcree looking for a fight" were not welcome among the Orange brethren at Drumcree.

Dr Paisley also said there was no linkage between Mr McGoldrick's killing and the Drumcree stand off. "I don't think the murder has anything to do with Drumcree whatsoever, and certainly not with those that are organising a legitimate, peaceful protest against a decision that should not have been taken," he added.