Murder And Its Aftermath
These are dark and dangerous days for Northern Ireland. Two murders in the space of twenty-four hours have overshadowed the three-stranded talks process and reactivated the risk of tit-for-tat sectarian killings. In the circumstances, and given the allegations and denials of responsibility emanating from various quarters, it is of paramount importance that the full facts of the situation should be made known. In that regard, there is an obligation on the RUC Chief Constable, Mr Ronnie Flanagan, to provide the governments with any hard forensic evidence that exists as to the weapons used and the organisations involved. Already, unionist and loyalist parties are pointing accusingly at the IRA and demanding that Sinn Fein be debarred from the talks. The Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, has regretted the killings and said it was spurious to suggest an IRA involvement. Any attempt to force Sinn Fein out of the talks as a consequence of what had happened, he said, would be resisted because Sinn Fein was a free-standing party with its own mandate from the people. In the circumstances, the governments must proceed with the utmost caution and apply due process.
In the Dail, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, sympathised with the families of the victims and condemned the murders. Responding to Mr Proinsias De Rossa of Democratic Left he spoke of increased tension and fear on the streets of Northern Ireland. And he hoped all parties to the talks would state their positions in relation to violence, as they had an obligation to do. This obligation on parties, under the Mitchell principles, to forswear violence and to condemn its use by associated organisations has already led to the exclusion of the Ulster Democratic Party from the talks because of murders committed by the UDA/UFF. Last night, the Fine Gael leader, Mr John Bruton, said the Mitchell principles could not be fudged and, in a clear reference to Sinn Fein, said "the view that an electoral mandate is enough to exempt parties from them must be rejected out of hand."
If hard evidence is forthcoming which links the IRA or a cover organisation, such as Direct Action Against Drugs, with one or both of these murders, then an established procedure must be gone through by the governments. Sinn Fein will be challenged on the issue within the talks process - most likely to take place in Dublin, next Monday - and, depending on the evidence available and the responses forthcoming, the Mitchell principles must be upheld. Any disciplinary action will depend on the quality of hard forensic evidence and RUC intelligence supplied to the governments. But much may also hinge on government judgments: an assessment of possible complicity between Sinn Fein and elements of the IRA and a willingness by Sinn Fein to eschew the use of all violence as a political weapon. Last night, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr David Trimble, and Mr Garry McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party appealed for calm and called for no retaliation by loyalists to the killing of Mr Robert Dougan. Such a response, they said, was the reaction anticipated and planned for by republicans in order to destroy the talks process. It is to be hoped that their appeals prove effective.