Sunday Business Post

Fears of inter-IRA feud grow

31/08/03 00:00

By Paul T Colgan

Mainstream republicans are refusing to rule out a confrontation between the IRA and dissident splinter group the Real IRA following the murder of Belfast man Danny McGurk two weeks ago.

McGurk, who was from the Lower Falls area, was killed after falling out with members of the Real IRA. He was shot while at home with his family.

Following the shooting, there have been rumours that the Provisional IRA may be poised to stamp down on the dissidents.

"Republicans will not be pushed around. Certain sections within the Real IRA are like the equivalent of the IPLO (Irish

People's Liberation Organisation) in the early 1990s - full of `crims'," said one mainstream republican source.

The mere mention of the IPLO by republicans appears to be a clear warning to the dissidents.

The IRA effectively closed down the IPLO in 1992. The splinter group had become involved in a bloody feud with the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) and was linked to racketeering and prostitution.

In a republican 'night of the long knives' in September 1992 the IRA assassinated prominent IPLO man Sammy Ward, kneecapped several IPLO members and warned remaining IPLO members to leave the country.

The operation is reputed to have involved 100 IRA members. Several Real IRA members fled Belfast last week after local residents threatened to picket their homes.

Marion Price, spokeswoman for the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, which is aligned to the Real IRA, has been told by the North's security forces that her life is under threat.

"The McGurk murder was the culmination of a month-long episode," said one West Belfast republican.

"There were people in the Real IRA throwing their weight around. The community views them as a nuisance. They are a combination of malcontents and very young people who are badly led, badly organised and who happen to have guns. They're a bad situation waiting to happen."

"They're scared of the IRA and are under no illusion that there is a line they cannot cross. If they do, they will suffer the wrath of the movement. There is a breaking point - but that will be decided by the community itself.

"Everything the dissident groups touch goes wrong. It's clear that they are heavily infiltrated. In the eight years that the Continuity IRA has been in existence, I don't think they've ambushed one British soldier.

"They killed a former member of the UDR in an army base in Derry last year - he wasn't even involved any more. That's the extent of their war.

"Do they really think they are going to force Britain out of Ireland with such a campaign?

"The Real IRA recently came out and denied that it had made threats against Gerry Adams. It would be a really stupid move for them to carry out a threat like that."

Republicans fear that the Real IRA, while in no position to mount an effective campaign against the security forces, could derail the peace process.

"The danger in Belfast is that they'll come into conflict with someone like the `Sticks' (Official IRA). The Sticks, unlike the Provisionals, have nothing to lose and are schizophrenic at the best of times.

"The question is not what they'll do but what they'll trigger," said a republican source.

With movement towards the restoration of the North's political institutions expected over the coming months, republicans are concerned that incidents such as the McGurk murder could provide grist to the mill of anti-Agreement unionists.

The attention given to the trial and conviction of Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt has overshadowed the uneasy rumblings in West Belfast and the dirty protest by dissident republicans in Maghaberry Prison.

While the IRA has made it clear it will not tolerate further troublemaking in Belfast, the prison issue has the potential to cause tensions within the movement. If Real IRA demands for prisoners to be segregated from loyalists are not met, a hunger strike might be considered.

"The prison issue and the hunger strike hits a nerve with nationalists, and in particular, republicans,"said another senior republican.

"It's the one issue the dissidents have - but they have only one shot at it. Ifthey do itright,then they could generate some support or sympathy from the nationalist community. If not, then they will have undermined what little credibility or support they had in the first place."

The Maghaberry situation worsened during the week with the assault of two dissident republican prisoners by seven loyalists.The prisoners claim that the loyalists pulled a gun during the attack.

Marion Price, spokeswoman for the prisoners, claimed that the loyalists had attempted to strangle one victim in his cell.

The prison authorities deny that loyalists managed to smuggle a gun into the prison and that they have yet to find the weapon.

Nationalists and republicans, including Sinn Féin, have called on the authorities to segregate the prisoners to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.

Mainstream republicans support calls for segregation, but insist that the republican family in Belfast will not tolerate incidents like the McGurk murder for much longer.

"The IPLO was terminated because the ceasefires were coming," said the senior republican.

"Republicans said to themselves - `Let's get down to business with the Brits and really have a go at it'. They didn't want to be looking over their shoulders.

"I'm not saying the same thing applies now, but I'm sure the dissidents will have taken the IPLO episode into consideration."

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