By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The newly formed loyalist paramilitary group the Red Hand Defenders have claimed responsibility for the sectarian killing of a man in North Belfast last week.
Brian Service, a 35-year-old van driver, was murdered by loyalists as he walked home to his parents house from spending an evening with his brother nearby in Ardoyne.
He was shot twice in the head and three times in the back. His blood could be seen the next morning on the rainy streets of the north of the city, where 20 percent of all victims of the Troubles have been killed over the last 30 years.
The Red Hand Defenders are widely believed to comprise disaffected members of the LVF and UDA, both of which are on cease-fire.
As so often in the past, he was apparently killed because someone knew his face and regular movements between his brother’s and parents’ homes. Three months ago, Service was stabbed by loyalists in another unprovoked sectarian attack.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Sinn Fein is demanding the RUC make public what forensic details they have on the weapon used to kill Service. They suspect the same gang that killed Liam Conway in January this year was responsible, and that the UDA and LVF were involved.
Meanwhile, as Service was being buried Monday, the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, met with First Minister David Trimble, becoming the first political leader from the Republic to meet an Ulster Unionist leader inside the massive white edifice of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, since Sean Lemass in 1965.
On that occasion, the Rev. Ian Paisley threw snowballs at Lemass’s car. This time around, the subject of the discussions was the same: where the two jurisdictions in Ireland can cooperate across the border, and the atmosphere was just as tricky.
Needless to say, neither Paisley nor the other main anti-Agreement unionist leader, Robert McCartney of the UK Unionists, was present for the talks — in protest at the involvement of a "foreign state in Ulster’s affairs."
It appears that the Irish and British governments have given up any short-term hopes of breaking the logjam in the peace process over decommissioning and are concentrating instead on trying to reach agreement in other areas, in the event of the deadlock being resolved.
Irish government sources indicated that they are trying to test Trimble’s intentions on cross-border cooperation, to see if he is genuinely prepared to work structures that give expression to nationalist aspirations.
If he is, then more pressure is likely to be brought on Sinn Fein to use its influence with the IRA to decommission. If Trimble balks at any real recognition of an Irish dimension, then Dublin will be forced to try another track to keep the peace process alive.
Ahern is expected back in Belfast on Friday, and there is a possibility that British Prime Minister Tony Blair will go to Belfast in the near future.
The Oct. 31 deadline to reach agreement on what policy areas will be the subject of cross-border cooperation has now passed without action. Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, has canceled a trip to Brussels this week to visit senior EU politicians because of the "seriousness of the political situation."
Sinn Fein: no agreement
An Adams aide said Saturday: "As of midnight tonight, as far as we are concerned, there is no agreement. Our people have a very clear view that what we agreed to is no longer there.
"We are now looking at a situation where the only part of the agreement which the unionists wanted — the Assembly — is up and running — but nothing else is. Only those aspects which suit the unionists are in place.
"Everything we are hearing in private and in public tells us that David Trimble has dug his heels in and will not be budging from his stated position on decommissioning.
"The Agreement may stagger on for a few more months — even until February — when people may decide to bury it and erect a tombstone. But the gravediggers are definitely already at their work on the grave."
There is no sign of any incipient threat to the republican cease-fire, with all Sinn Fein’s energies directed to appealing to the British and Irish governments to involve themselves to rescue the Good Friday deal.
Speaking after roundtable talks with the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and smaller parties on Monday, Ahern said it had been a "very determined, constructive and progressive meeting."
"We of course see Strand Two issues as very important. The North-South dimension is fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement," Ahern said. "It gives institutional expression to the wishes of the nationalist people.
"Because of that it is vitally important that we move on apace. What is important now in the bilaterals is to see how we can move towards the finality of what are implementation bodies and what are North-South bodies."
"We very quickly have to finalize, not tonight but as quickly as we can, so we can move into detail and analytical work to put this into a framework with devolved powers and the rest of the Agreement."
The Ulster Unionists, however, are still sticking to their line that cross-border cooperation must be restricted to:
€ legal arguments over where the border runs in British/Irish territorial waters in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough;
€ animal and plant health;
€ inland waterways (canals and rivers).
The SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Irish government view these proposals as derisory and want to see inward investment, trade, tourism, education and health the subjects of cross border cooperation and cohesion.
The battle over this has merely begun, with both sides adamant that the agreement supports their view. Relations between Trimble and Adams worsened last week with the UUP leader accusing Adams of using a meeting between the two as a "publicity stunt."
On decommissioning, Trimble accused Adams of failing to engage. A UUP source described the meeting as "frank, hard-nosed and not terribly good-humored."
Adams sounded as cross as Trimble, saying he had not been impressed with the UUP leader’s defense of his position and accusing him of breaching his commitments.