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CIRA expands into west Belfast

(by Henry McDonald, The Observer)

THE CONTINUITY IRA has established a terror unit in the heart of Gerry Adams’ constituency in west Belfast.

The Observer has learnt that CIRA has recruited up to 25 members in the Poleglass/Twinbrook areas over the last few months. They include a few former Provisional IRA members from the area alongside a larger batch of younger recruits with no previous history of involvement in republican violence.

RUC and republican sources have confirmed that CIRA, which has linked up with the other anti-ceasefire republican terror group, the Real IRA, has opened a base in Sinn Féin’s Belfast heartland. Until now the CIRA and Real IRA have been dismissed as rural based organisations unable to penetrate urban republican redoubts like west Belfast and Derry.

A senior RUC officer said: "There is now a nucleus in the Poleglass and Twinbrook of people under the CIRA umbrella. At this stage there has been no conflict with the Provos who see these areas as their patch. I don’t think that will happen until the dissidents raise their heads and try to do something in the near future."

Republicans in west Belfast claim that the dissident group is no longer worried about incurring the wrath of the larger Provisional IRA in west Belfast. "The IRA still rule in west Belfast but the dissidents are growing and they don’t seem to be worried about them anyone. They’ve even effectively taken over a local pub where their writ rules large," one ex-PIRA member told The Observer.

The former IRA man said the dissidents now had money from supporters in the United States but only a small arsenal of arms with which to start up a new-armed struggle.

Although the overwhelming majority of republicans support Gerry Adams’ policies the emergence of an armed dissident group in their west Belfast stronghold is a worrying development for the Sinn Féin leadership. If the IRA/Sinn Féin leadership were to agree to some form of decommissioning after David Trimble sets up an Executive this would cause enormous discontent within the republican base.

The revelation that CIRA has formed a unit in republican west Belfast comes as the organisation’s political allies, Republican Sinn Féin, moves to set up a base in the same part of the city. RSF, which opposes Gerry Adams’s peace strategy, has bought an office on the Falls Road, not very far from the headquarters of Sinn Féin. The Belfast RSF headquarters will open in January 2000.

Five terrorist prisoners in Maghaberry jail outside Belfast have supported the dissident republicans. In the latest edition of its monthly newspaper, Saoirse, RSF calls on nationalists and republicans to support four CIRA prisoners who are demanding political status inside Maghaberry.

Loyalists in the prison scalded one of the inmates, west Belfast man Tommy Crossan, with hot water a fortnight ago. Crossan and his comrades are now demanding segregation from loyalists, a prison wing of their own and recognition of their group by the authorities.

Adam Ingram, the Security Minister in Northern Ireland, has confirmed in a letter to Tony Benn that the British government intends to abolish political status for prisoners once the Maze shuts in July 2000. RSF now plans a campaign for the Maghaberry inmates to be recognised as political prisoners. The jail is fully integrated with extreme anti-ceasefire loyalists mixing freely with republican inmates. The dissident loyalists, led by Protestant fundamentalist preacher Clifford Peeples, are also demanding segregation from republicans.

Cracks in PIRA unit have emerged from inside Portlaoise prison in the Republic. IRA prisoners including the Brixton escaper Pearse McAuley fought each other during a row over the peace process last week. McAuley lunged at Gerard Hanratty, an IRA inmate who was imprisoned in Germany for attacks on British military installations. McAuley shouted "sell out" when Hanratty outlined the position of the Sinn Féin leadership about the current political negotiations at Stormont.

Meanwhile one of the men being questioned by gardai in the Republic over Real IRA activity is understood to have visited the former Yugoslavia earlier this year. Gardai believe the suspect was part of a two-man Real IRA delegation, which bought weapons and explosives from arms dealers in the Balkans. These included a Russian made anti-tank rocket launcher, which was found last month by gardai during raids on farms in Co.Meath.

The explosives found in these same raids was contained in primed detonators which were designed to set off larger bombs comprised mainly of fertiliser mix. This suggests that the Real IRA was poised to launch bombing attacks at the time of the gardai operation against the terror group.