Loyalists will pay ultimate price for attacks on nationalists, warns INLA

In its statement after the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, the INLA could hardly hide its glee

In its statement after the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, the INLA could hardly hide its glee. "The Irish National Liberation Army claim responsibility for the execution of King Rat. We warn loyalist paramilitaries against further attacks on the nationalist community."If this warning is not heeded, we will have hesitation in making sure those who prey on the nationalist working class pay the ultimate price." In many republican areas of the North, where Wright was "public enemy number one", there was celebration.The INLA and its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, have often voiced stinging criticism of the peace process, although at other times their position has appeared ambiguous.But in west Belfast no one was concerned about the politics of the situation. "I'm no fan of the IRPS (INLA)," said one man in Andersonsotwn. "But fair play to them. They did the business. They took out somebody who killed an awful lot of Catholics."But there will surely be relief at Wright's death in other quarters too. His breakaway LVF, with its staunch opposition to the Stormont talks and the loyalist ceasefire caused major difficulties for the UVF and its political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party.The IRA has also much to gain from Wright's removal. He regularly put its ceasefire under strain. When the LVF carried out sectarian killings, the Provisionals came under immense pressure to retaliate from their own grassroots.At first glance, Wright's killing might appear to place the peace process in jeopardy. But while the LVF might launch a spate of attacks in coming weeks, in the long term it has been seriously weakened by the loss of its leader.The INLA has actually strengthened the peace process it says it opposes. In Spring this year, after Wright was moved to the INLA wing in the Maze prison, a republican supporter told this reporter that he had seen a number of the INLA/IRSP meet two senior loyalists from the Shankill in Andersonstown in west Belfast.It is understood that the IRA was also made aware of the alleged meeting but did not take the matter further. Sources close to the INLA dismissed suggestions that they might have colluded with loyalists to kill Wright as "totally off the wall". "We have had not meetings with loyalists whatsoever," one said. "If this killing has helped other groups, that has nothing to do with us."Billy Wright was killed because he was directing the murder of Catholics from Long Kesh. The broader picture relating to the peace process didn't come into it. King Rat ran around for too long threatening people. Well, he isn't running any more."The self-professed Marxist organisation was formed 22 years ago.During the 1970s and early 1980s it acquired a reputation for ruthlessness. It was responsible for scores of security force fatalities.Its most high profile attack was the 1979 killing of Mr Airey Neave, the British Conservative spokesman on the North and confidante of Mrs Thatcher.But the group lost credibility in the mid-1980s as it was riven by internal feuds. It was largely ineffective in the early 1990s with the exception of a Belfast commander, Gino Gallagher, who shot dead three loyalists on the Shankill Road in June 1994.The following year, Gallagher became "chief of staff" and the INLA started re-organising. But he was shot dead in another internal feud eight months later. The INLA does not appear to have recovered and has been overtaken recently by the Continuity IRA.However, it has units in Belfast, Derry, Strabane, Newry, Armagh, Dundalk and Dublin. It has refused to call a ceasefire but has adopted a "no first strike policy" with units allowed to operate only in "defence and retaliation".Sources said that Wright's killing did not breach this position as he had "gone on the offensive killing seven Catholics in the past year". The INLA has pledged not to take any military action against the peace process, claiming that it "must be seen to fail because of its own flaws."Wright is the INLA's second victim this year. In May, it shot dead an RUC officer, Mr Darren Bradshaw (24) in a gay bar in Belfast. He had been suspended from the force. At the time, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, predicted that it was the start of a sustained campaign.The INLA was involved in several minor incidents during the Drumcree crisis in the summer but, over the past seven months, its guns have remained largely silent. Wright's killing will, for a while, gain the INLA status in working class nationalist areas. But it should not automatically be interpreted as a sign that the INLA is on its way back to war.