By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Three Catholic families came under attack last week with the loyalist pipe bomb campaign showing no sign of abating. No one was hurt in the attacks in Ballycastle, Belfast and Dungannon.
A Sinn Fein councilor, James McCarry, was the target of the Ballycastle attack. A pipe bomb was hurled into the living room of his house while he was away on council business.
He said afterward that the bombers must have known, from the absence of his car outside, that only his family was inside the house at the time of the attack.
In 1997, McCarry’s car was booby-trapped by a bomb that almost certainly would have killed him had it exploded. He said the RUC had informed him then that it was to have been detonated by a mercury tilt device.
It’s believed a similar device was used to murder Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson on March 15. A campaign for an independent inquiry into her murder is gathering pace.
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There are hopes that the Lower Ormeau Concerned Citizens group and the Apprentice Boys of Derry may be involved in direct talks soon to resolve disputed marches in Belfast. This Monday saw the first contentious Apprentice Boys march of the year rerouted from the nationalist area.
There’s also a parallel proposal for proximity talks between the LOCC and the Orange Order — which falls short of direct talks — with the lord mayor of Belfast, David Alderdice of the Alliance Party, agreeing to act as facilitator.
The LOCC residents have been asking for direct talks with the ABD and the Orange Order for seven years. At the weekend there was a row when the Apprentice Boys claimed it had sent the residents an invitation for talks and had been snubbed.
The LOCC said this was "nonsense" and that it was still waiting for a reply to the many letters it had sent over the years to the Apprentice Boys.
The Apprentice Boys are asking for the residents to agree in advance to desist from "confrontational words and actions" — which the residents fear is a coded request for them agreeing, in advance, to allow a march through the area this marching season.
The LOCC group countered by issuing an invitation to immediate talks but have now been accused by the Apprentice Boys of negotiating through the media. The ABD says it will consider its response to their invitation as soon as possible after Easter.
There is also a separate but parallel proposal for proximity talks involving the Orange Order, which refuses to meet the residents directly. The proposal has the backing of the SDLP and Ulster Unionists, but it’s thought the residents still wish for direct dialogue rather than through intermediaries.
In a more optimistic development, on Saturday the British Army announced it would be vacating part of the Crossmaglen Rangers GAA pitch "as soon as possible."
The land was taken over by the British Army in 1974 and has been used as a helicopter landing pad since. Northern Secretary, Mo Mowlam, made the announcement on "security grounds."
Meanwhile, there have been reports of tensions within Republican Sinn Fein, particularly in Derry. It’s believed numbers of recruits are joining the group because of its opposition to the Good Friday agreement.
Some, however, are believed to be impatient with the style of veteran RSF President Ruairi O’Bradaigh, a republican of the old school who was president of Sinn Fein immediately prior to Gerry Adams.