By Jack Holland
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown are set to visit Northern Ireland on Thursday for what sources say is meant to be a morale booster for pro-agreement Unionists, buffeted by a flood of allegations about continued IRA activity, say reliable sources. The powerful duo are expected to announce an economic initiative involving the transfer of land formerly owned by the Ministry of Defense to the Northern Ireland government for development. The planned visit will, it is thought, include a trip to Ebrington Barracks in the mainly Protestant area of the Waterside in Derry. The barracks, which is closed down, will be handed over to local authorities for redevelopment.
The visit is part of a flurry of activity aimed at countering the rising anxiety among pro-agreement Unionists lead by David Trimble, set off by allegations of IRA activities. These include allegations that emerged at a hearing in Washington detailing inks between the IRA and Colombian insurgent groups, the continuing controversy over the break-in at Castlereagh police station in March, and the murder two weeks ago of Barney McDonald, a Co.Tyrone taxi driver who was killed by unknown gunmen using shotguns.
In all three cases, either the IRA has issued official denials or republicans have said that the IRA was not involved.
However, the Ulster Unionist leader has been attempting to have the status of the IRA’s cease-fire reviewed. After he failed to have the matter debated in the Northern Ireland assembly, Trimble asked the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Sir John Reid to assess whether the IRA has violated its cease-fire. Trimble also visited Dublin to consult with the Irish government. Afterwards, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern affirmed that the IRA cease-fire remains intact.
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