Killings by IRA dissidents unite Northern Ireland

Prompt vow to defeat hard-liners

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press / March 11, 2009
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BELFAST - The Protestant and Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland mounted an exceptional display of unity against rising violence from Irish Republican Army dissidents - and vowed yesterday to defeat hard-liners with the power of popular will.

Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, who long hoped that slaying police officers would help him achieve his dream of a united Ireland, stood shoulder to shoulder with his Protestant partner atop the government, Peter Robinson, and Northern Ireland police commander Hugh Orde.

The scene itself was an unprecedented surprise. More stunning were the clear-cut words from McGuinness, whose Sinn Fein party has faced years of outside pressure to embrace British law and order. He pledged his personal support to the English police chief, and demanded that his own police-loathing supporters abandon their traditional code of silence and expose the IRA dissidents in their Irish Catholic communities.

"I have to keep my nerve, and to appeal to my community to assist the police services north and south to defeat these people," McGuinness said of the dissidents who killed two British soldiers and a policeman over the past three days - the first such killings in more than a decade.

"There is a duty on me, a responsibility on me to lead from the front, and I expect that people will follow," McGuinness said. He called the IRA splinter groups "traitors to the island of Ireland. They have betrayed the political desires, hopes, and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island, and they don't deserve to be supported by anyone."

Analysts said the dissidents' dramatic escalation of bloodshed since Saturday was designed to divide and undermine McGuinness and Robinson as they embarked on their most significant foreign mission: a planned 10-day tour of the United States culminating at the White House on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, to meet President Barack Obama.

Twice, deadly shootings have obliged the power-sharing chiefs to postpone their departure. They will try again today, and still expect to meet Obama next week on Ireland's national holiday, the day when Northern Ireland leaders traditionally curry US economic and political support.

But political analysts widely suggested yesterday that the dissidents, though probably trying to exacerbate tensions between Robinson's Democratic Unionists and McGuinness' Sinn Fein, were having the opposite effect.

After their first-ever joint appearance with the police chief, McGuinness and Robinson - who have kept their distance during eight frosty months sharing power - traveled in the same car together to visit the widow of the most recent victim, 48-year-old Constable Stephen Carroll.

The 23-year police veteran was shot in the back of his head Monday night when a gunman from the Continuity IRA dissident group fired on his parked police car.

Carroll had been part of a police backup unit for front-line officers investigating the home of a woman who reported that youths were smashing her windows in a Catholic part of Craigavon. Carroll's widow, Kate, said he had hugged her and told her before leaving home that morning: "Don't worry - they won't get me."

"A good husband has been taken away from me, and my life has been destroyed," she said.

Police raided several homes yesterday in a nearby state housing project and arrested a 17-year-old-boy and 37-year-old man on suspicion of involvement in Carroll's slaying.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, the 108-member legislature that provides the bedrock for the Robinson-McGuinness administration, observed a minute's silence in honor of Carroll's sacrifice. The day before, they did the same in memory of Cengiz Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23 - the unarmed, off-duty soldiers gunned down by another splinter gang, the Real IRA, outside their army base Saturday.

The Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are committed to unraveling the 2005 decision by the mainstream "Provisional" IRA to renounce violence and disarm.

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