IAIN WATSON: The new Police Service of
Northern Ireland is on patrol during a period of heightened tensions on
the streets of Belfast, the British and Irish governments will meet all
the pro agreement parties in the province this week; a recognition that
the peace process is under increasing pressure from sustained incidents
of sectarian violence.
The most dramatic scenes
have been in the small Nationalist enclave of the Short Strand in east
Belfast, sandwiched between streets which are seen as Protestant paramilitary
territory. Both communities blame each other for provoking the disturbances.
The expected peace dividend from the Good Friday Agreement hasn't been
delivered to some of the most tense and least well off parts of Northern
Some acts of violence
have been on the increase since the main paramilitary groups went on cease-fire.
In 1997, the year before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, there were
ninety three incidents involving bombs -but by last year this had increased
to four hundred and forty eight. In 1997, the police in Northern Ireland
recorded forty six shootings by loyalist groups, but in the first two
months of this year, there were fifty: more than in the whole of 1997,
although some of these were due to internal disputes. Shootings by republican
groups are also on the increase; there were twenty six in the whole of
1997, but in the first two months of this year alone this had risen to
Violence didn't exactly
evaporate four years ago when the Good Friday Agreement was signed; but
the recent disturbances here in the Short Strand area of Belfast is putting
the peace process under even greater pressure. Not only have we seen the
army back on the streets, but there are allegations of involvement by both
Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in recent activities. That, combined
with the revelations about the extent of IRA involvement in Colombia,
and the Good Friday Agreement is under unprecedented strain. And now one
government minister has admitted privately that it's becoming increasingly
difficult to maintain that the IRA cease-fire is holding
DAVID BURNSIDE MP; If the British Government is
prepared to stand up to the Republican Movement which I'm afraid that so
far they haven't proved that they're prepared to do, they will declare
the Provisional IRA cease-fire is over and that will have consequences
for the whole Belfast Agreement.
MARTIN McGUINNESS; I believe the IRA cessation
has been rock solid. The IRA have been, for the greater part of eight years,
DAVID ERVINE; I'm telling it as it is.
UVF have broken the cease-fire. The IRA has broken the cease-fire, and
instead of having a government that's saying, "Well we've got problems,
we'd better do something about it", the government's almost afraid to admit
that it has a problem.
WATSON; This event, at Northern
Ireland's parliament buildings, was to celebrate peace. The American envoy
Richard Haass was presenting a prize for cross community reconciliation,
which went to the brother of Belfast's Sinn Fein mayor. But he did more
than glad hand; during his visit, he met all the key political players,
and his assessment is that both Loyalists AND Republicans were involved
in orchestrating the recent disturbances
RICHARD HAASS; Obviously there's been some
violence and clearly not all the violence is spontaneous, we're seeing
a degree of organised violence from the Loyalist paramilitaries as well
as on the Republican side.
WATSON; The Nationalist lower
Ormeau Road is about a five minute drive from the Short Strand, and it's
also seen sporadic clashes recently. A community leader there says he
believes Republicans were involved in violence in the Short Strand, but
that they had every right to be.
GERARD RICE; The Republicans clearly did
shoot - you know - elements in the Short Strand, clearly did shoot five
people. So, when people in - in Short Strand, you know, have their houses
wrecked and then people attempt to burn 'em, somebody has to defend them.
WATSON; The problem for the government
is that, unlike those politicians who are close to the Loyalist paramilitaries,
Sinn Fein sit on the Northern Ireland Executive, so declaring the IRA cease-fire
over could be tantamount to declaring that the peace process is over; the
Short Strand area is of strong symbolic significance to Republicans; a
nascent Provisional IRA carried out one of its first ever actions in the
grounds of St Matthews church thirty two years ago when three Protestants,
they say were part of a marauding mob were killed. Now, after two acts
of decommissioning, the IRA may be keen to prove that they haven't abandoned
Catholic communities under siege, but Sinn Fein say it's just ordinary
householders protecting their property
McGUINNESS; Whenever homes are being blast
bombed, paint bombed, petrol bombed, shot at by Loyalists, people come
climbing over walls and into communities, the people come onto the streets
and defend their community. No Republican involvement anywhere in the
world. That would have happened anywhere in the world. People have a right
to defend themselves against this aggression, now really - really what
WATSON: Are the IRA effectively
defending their own community?
McGUINNESS: Well I don't know what
the IRA are doing. I - I am dealing with the root of the difficulty here,
and take it from me the IRA are not the root of difficulty in Belfast.
WATSON: Last week on this programme
the Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel Mclaughlin refused to condemn an attack
on a Catholic recruit to the new police service. That now appears not have
been a spontaneous reaction, but a strategic decision by Sinn Fein. Their
refusal to endorse the new police service allows them to differentiate
themselves from their Nationalist political rivals, the SDLP.
Would you condemn the
attack on the Catholic recruit?
McGUINNESS: My position is very, very,
clear. I deplore all causes of conflict and all violence within our society.
It's very clear.
WATSON: But do you condemn that
McGUINNESS: I can't be any clearer than
what I've just said. I deplore all injustice. Don't ask about one specific
WATSON: Why not?
McGUINNESS: I have just come from a community
yesterday, that has been attacked on a daily basis, by Loyalist paramilitaries
and you don't ask me, my views on that?
WATSON: I did and you condemned
McGUINNESS: No, I don't...
WATSON: You condemned the Loyalist
attack. But do you also condemn the attack on the Catholic recruit.
McGUINNESS: I'm sorry... I'm sorry but
I don't be asked specifically - no one comes to me for example from the
BBC with a specific agenda to deal with a situation where Catholics are
being attacked by Loyalist paramilitaries
WATSON: Anti-Agreement Unionists
were defeated at yesterday's meeting of the party's executive in their
attempt to get David Trimble to set a date for pulling out of the government
with Sinn Fein. But party officers will meet to consider action against
the Republicans this Friday. If they don't take a tough enough line, some
of David Trimble's opponents inside the party are threatening to call a
meeting of the much larger and less leadership-friendly, Ulster Unionist
Council - where they'll try to force him to resign from the government
of Northern Ireland.
BURNSIDE: I don't believe that
Unionists will have any credibility if they continue in the Executive with
Sinn Fein, the political mouthpiece of the Republican Movement which incorporates
the provisional IRA that continue to be involved in terrorism and violence
domestically and internationally. It must be brought to a crunch as soon
as possible and I don't believe we as an Ulster Unionist party can allow
it to drift through the summer, I think it must be done this month.
WATSON: One small island off the
coast of Britain where symbols of identity aren't contentious is the tax
haven of Jersey, the venue for last week's meeting of the British/Irish
council. It should have been all about the knowledge economy but it soon
became the impromptu venue for the Prime Minister to get up to speed on
the developments in Northern Ireland. He agreed to convene a meeting of
all pro agreement parties, but the Unionist delegation was pressing for
something more firm.
The formal business of
the British/Irish council was conducted here in this room but many of the
real negotiations took place on the sidelines. Pro-Agreement Unionists
have been lobbying the government intensely to punish Sinn Fein for what
they see as a breach in the IRA ceasefire. They say a lack of willingness
by the government to take on Republicans, simply plays into the hands of
anti-Agreement Unionists and they are becoming increasingly frustrated
that the government's rhetoric against paramilitary activity simply isn't
backed by explicit threats of sanctions against Sinn Fein.
David Trimble had drawn
up a list of demands involving action against Sinn Fein, short of leaving
the Northern Ireland Executive, which he presented to the Prime Minister.
But his pro-Agreement colleagues say without visible support from Tony
Blair, the option of walking out of government may yet become inevitable.
SIR REG EMPEY MLA: There is a limit to our patience
and a limit to our ability to maintain institutions while they are being
continuously undermined by Republican Paramilitaries. That is the target
that must be addressed and addressed by Tony Blair now.
WATSON: The Conservatives, say
the government, are in a position to send a strong signal to Sinn Fein
immediately without having to exile them from the peace process. The government
could withdraw guarantees apparently made to Sinn Fein at Weston Park in
Staffordshire last July when the government was trying to encourage IRA
QUENTIN DAVIES MP: There is a whole range of sanctions
which are possible and I have set them out in the House of Commons. I personally
would start with probably the easiest one which is to remove the Sinn Fein
IRA special status at Westminster which should never have been given.
Secondly I would suspend all the Weston Park promises to Sinn Fein IRA
amnesties for on the run terrorists. And then if that didn't work I would
certainly take powers to remove the Sinn Fein members of the executive.
WATSON: But Sinn Fein say the current
street troubles in the Short Strand are being exploited by shadowy figures
in the security services who have deliberately timed their allegations
of IRA weapons training in Colombia to coincide with the current tensions
and to stoke up retaliation.
McGUINNESS: I don't believe that the peace
process in Ireland is under threat from the IRA but I think that it is
under threat from people within the British military establishment, and
from within Loyalism here attacking Catholics who are doing that in order
to prevent change and to destabilise all of the work of the last ten years.
WATSON: This isn't the West Bank.
It's East Belfast -the Israeli flag is flying alongside Union Jacks in
an apparent Loyalist tribute to the tough - some would say brutal action
- taken against terrorism in the Middle East. Some of the politicians
closest to Protestant paramilitaries such as the UVF say that ceasefires
were breached partly because the government hasn't taken robust enough
action to stop tit for tat sectarian violence.
ERVINE: Every time there's been
a violent action that hasn't been jumped on from a great height, we're
sending messages to every paramilitary, of whatever colour, in Northern
Ireland, that the parameters are broader, the barriers are coming down
and sometimes people behave because they can, and we have to retrace our
steps and offer to the ordinary people the belief that this is not a paramilitary
WATSON: It's not just the new police
service of Northern Ireland that's been stretched to the limit by street
violence, it's the entire peace process. If the government fails to take
tough action against Sinn Fein, that could play into the hands of anti-Agreement
Unionists, but to declare the IRA ceasefire has been breached could provoke
a potentially more dangerous backlash.