Loyalists hold fire while keeping watch on IRA


THE three IRA bombs in London were not a sufficient impetus to bring about an end of the loyalist ceasefire, senior loyalists have indicated. However, the resumption, of an IRA campaign in the North, particularly a campaign in which loyalists were attacked, would almost certainly change this situation.

Late last week, loyalists in Belfast reported sightings of IRA members in or near loyalist areas of the city, leading to suspicions that they are already "targeting" loyalist figures.

It is believed that the loyalists are again building up intelligence on republicans in preparation for a possible return to conflict in Northern Ireland.

The loyalist leaders, in both the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), have been in contact with each other but it is not expected that any joint statement will be issued on their behalf about their intentions.

The loyalist ceasefire announcement and other joint decisions between the UVF and UDA have been issued under the umbrella title of the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC). It comprises the UVF, UDA and a small independent loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Red Hand Commando (RHC).

Although no CLMC statement has been issued to date, it is said there is consensus among the loyalists about the decision to hold their fire.

The decision not to issue a formal statement in response to the ending of the IRA ceasefire is said to be because it could heighten tension. It is also possible that it might lead to dissent within the fringe elements of loyalism.

The loyalists played down the significance of an incident, when a shot was fired at a house in the Shankill area, two hours after the IRA Docklands bomb.

It was reported that local loyalists had attempted to hijack a car with the intention of carrying out an attack on a Catholic area, in retaliation for the IRA bomb in London.

However, senior loyalists from the area say it was a drunken incident and the shot was fired after a brawl. An attempt was made to hi jack a car at about the same time in Shankill Parade but, the loyalists say, there was no concerted attempt to launch an attack and no such attack was sanctioned at any level in either the UDA or UVF.

The loyalists believe it is "almost inevitable" that the IRA will restart violence in Northern Ireland, unless some form of a political arrangement can be arrived at quickly to bring about a resumption of the ceasefire.

They believe it is incumbent on the governments to move quickly towards elections in Northern Ireland.

They say that allowing any political initiative to be put back as far as the autumn would be too much of a risk, especially if the IRA campaign were resumed in Northern Ireland.

It was pointed out that the loyalists were ready to resume their campaign and could mount operations within 24 hours if it was decided to do so. The UVF maintains it has the capability of planting bombs in the Republic, it was said.

There are major differences between the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), the political party associated with the UVF, and the Government, since their last meeting in the week before the ending of the IRA ceasefire.

The PUP is understood to be incensed at what it says was the offhand and "hectoring" approach taken against their negotiators. PUP sources confirmed the party would not be considering any direct contacts with the Government for the immediate future but pointed out that this was not brought about by the IRA decision. However, the ending of the IRA ceasefire had made the chances of political contact more difficult.

The exact state of readiness among loyalist paramilitaries is, unclear. The UVF is believed to have remained largely intact and is still a cohesive group. However, the UDA was known to have had internal differences in 1994 and it is not clear how this has affected its organisation.

There has been relatively little activity from loyalist paramilitaries during the past year and a half. There have been some punishment beatings but nothing like on the scale of the beatings in republican areas. One former loyalist was shot dead for alleged involvement in drugs trafficking, compared with six killed by the IRA.