By Jack Holland
The Belfast leadership of the Provisional IRA has held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the breakaway Irish National Liberation Army to warn them about carrying out further actions. Last week, an INLA gunman wounded a Protestant teenager in North Belfast, setting off a series of retaliatory attacks that left one Catholic man dead and several wounded.
The meeting is believed to have taken place under supervision of a Catholic priest in West Belfast. The Provisional IRA reportedly sought to impress upon the INLA the dangers of further attacks in the volatile area of North Belfast, which has been the scene of dozens of sectarian incidents over the last year, including a violent protest against Catholic schoolgirls who attend the Holy Cross Girls’ School, which sits on the border between Catholic and Protestant districts.
During recent riots in the Ardoyne area, prominent members of the INLA were seen, in one case remonstrating with prominent members of the Provisional IRA who were restraining riotous youths. Among the INLA leaders present was the man believed to be head of the Belfast organization who has been involved in many INLA killings over the years, including the murder of Gerard Steenson, regarded as the INLA’s top gunman, during a feud in 1987. Also present in the Ardoyne was a prominent member of the INLA’s political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
It is reported that both the INLA and the IRSP have been recruiting members in the North Belfast, hoping to take advantage of disgruntled youths who find themselves being held back by the Provisionals.
At last week’s meeting between the Provisionals and the INLA/IRSP, the Provisionals accused the breakaway group’s attack of leading directly to the death of Gerard Lawlor, the 19-year-old Catholic murdered by the Ulster defense Association in retaliation. The INLA denied involvement in the earlier attack on the young Protestant.
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Tension between the Provisional IRA and the INLA is not a new thing. Since the INLA was formed in 1974, after it split from the Official IRA, its violent and occasionally spectacular actions have sometimes been viewed as a challenge to the Provisionals. In 1979, the INLA murdered Airey Neave, close adviser to Margaret Thatcher, an attack originally claimed by the Provisionals. Five months later, the Provisionals murdered Lord Mountbatten. More recently, the INLA was responsible for the murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright, in December 1997, in the Maze Prison. Two months later, the Provisional IRA shot dead a leading member of the UDA in South Belfast.
Though the INLA is much smaller and less well-armed than the Provisional IRA, it is unpredictable, and offers the possibility for “action” from those in nationalist community who want to strike back at loyalists.
Meanwhile, the UDA in North Belfast, which was responsible for the murder of Lawlor, has undergone a leadership change. The man now in charge is Andre Khaled Shoukri, Egyptian-born and known to be a close confidant of Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair. This is the second major leadership change in the area in several months. A leading member of organization’s Belfast Brigade was demoted by Adair and put in charge of a unit of C company. Adair was released from prison earlier in the summer, sparking fears that because of his reputation for violence, he would further destabilize an already shaky situation.