Four injured as republicans feud

 

A republican feud in Newry, Co Down, has led to four people being wounded in so-called punishment shootings in recent days. A local SDLP councillor, Mr Pat McElroy, has appealed to the two sides in the dispute, the IRA and elements formerly associated with the Official IRA or Workers' Party, to end the feud before it leads to loss of life.

On Sunday night two men were shot in separate attacks in Newry, each of them in both knees. The IRA claimed the men had been involved in recent "anti-social behaviour" involving rioting and looting.

The attacks were met by quick retaliation. Late on Monday, and on Tuesday afternoon, dissident republicans carried out similar attacks on two Sinn Fein supporters in the town. Also on Tuesday, gunmen chased a Sinn Fein supporter through a factory in the Greenbank Industrial Estate in Newry, before catching him and shooting him in both legs.

According to a local Sinn Fein councillor, Mr Davy Hyland, there were other failed attacks on party members on Tuesday night and early yesterday morning. He called on those responsible to end it.

The feud has potential to escalate. Political and republican sources in Newry said that the dissident republicans - known as "Sticks" - are relatively strong in the town. While the IRA and Sinn Fein are also strong in Newry, it could prove difficult to bring the dissidents to book, said one well placed local source.

"If the IRA were brought in from south Armagh they could deal with the Sticks but the local Provos would be hard-pressed to bring them to heel," he said.

About Christmas last year the Workers' Party expelled its entire branch membership in Newry, comprising about 20 members. It claimed some of them were involved "in anti-social and sectarian behaviour".

It is believed that some of these former members or their associates - who claimed they were expelled from the party because they wanted to change its political nature - were responsible for the retaliatory attacks on the Sinn Fein members.

The IRA had initiated the attacks because, republicans claimed, elements now calling themselves the Official Republican Movement had been involved in looting the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry following the Drumcree disturbances last week.

Mr McElroy yesterday called on the two sides to end their dispute quickly. "They should catch themselves on before this thing escalates and people are killed. That is the way such feuds always turn out if people don't cry a halt," he warned.

Scores of people have died in internecine republican disputes involving groups such as the IRA, the Official IRA, the INLA, and the Irish People's Liberation Organisation.