By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam has banned the two anti-Agreement loyalist splinter groups, the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders. She has also accepted the INLA’s cease-fire, which it called six months ago, paving the way toward early releases for its prisoners.
It means that membership, financial support for, organizing meetings on behalf of, or encouraging people to join either loyalist organization became illegal last Wednesday at midnight.
The Red Hand Defenders and Orange Volunteers have been described by David Ervine, the PUP spokesman, as a strange combination of drug-induced, red-neck religious fundamentalism.
Both groups, who oppose the Agreement, have a lethal capacity, however, and have recently used hand grenades, pipe bombs and guns in a series of sectarian attacks on Catholic homes and families.
The Red Hand Defenders have killed twice. A Catholic man, Brian Service, was shot dead on Oct. 31 and an RUC man, Frank O’Reilly, died on Oct. 6 from injuries sustained from a pipe bomb attack in Portadown on Sept. 5.
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There were a series of pipe-bomb and arson attacks last week. On Wednesday, the British Army carried out two controlled explosions on a suspect loyalist device in Armagh. A number of families were evacuated from their homes during the alert, which the RUC says was not sectarian in motive.
On Sunday, two Catholic women (one elderly and one middle-aged) said they would be leaving their homes in the Graymount area of North Belfast after arson attacks. Both had been attacked before and said they could take no more.
The British special branch and military police arrested up to 15 people in England on Sunday, including two soldiers — one a member of the Parachute Regiment who had served in Northern Ireland, on suspicion of involvement with a neo-Nazi group.
The soldiers were held in Wiltshire and Lancashire after a long-running investigation into a group called "Combat 18" and its links with loyalists in the North. Combat 18 gets its name from the first and eighth letters of the alphabet, "A" and "H" which were Adolph Hitler’s initials.
There’s evidence going back many years of links between extreme right-wingers in Britain and loyalists in the North with republican rallies in London being attacked, most recently in January at a Bloody Sunday rally.