By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — An IRA statement last week, apparently designed to defuse accusations that it had broken its cease-fire, appears to have had the opposite effect, with loyalist politicians demanding Sinn Fein’s expulsion from the political process.
The IRA statement failed to unambiguously deny involvement in a recently foiled plot to import arms from Florida. Nor did it clearly and categorically deny involvement in the murder of a man in West Belfast the previous week.
The short statement issued by the IRA reads, in full: "Following recent media reports of an alleged IRA arms importation operation from the USA, a preliminary investigation has been carried out by Oglaigh na hEireann. The Army Council has not sanctioned any arms importation operation.
"There has also been speculation about the recent killing of Charles Bennett. Let us emphasize that there have been no breaches of the IRA cessation, which remains intact."
The statement was signed, P. O’Neill, Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin."
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Not surprisingly, Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, welcomed the statement, which he said should end recent speculation about the status of the IRA’s cessation.
"The challenge remains for all of us in political leadership, but especially those of us who want a better future, to oppose the rejectionists and the wreckers," he said. "Our focus must continue to be building on the opportunities created by the IRA cessation. This means all political facing up to our responsibilities. The politicians must not let people down."
Unionists, however, in a perhaps an equally predictable response, rejected the IRA statement and are demanding Sinn Fein’s exclusion from the political process. Ken Maginnis of the UUP said there were "lies and damned lies" and the IRA statement fell into the second category.
The DUP leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, said the IRA had a case to answer on both the alleged U.S. arms plot, in which four people have been arrested for sending weapons through the mail, and the murder last week of Bennett, a 22-year-old North Belfast man. Paisley and other prominent Ulster Unionists have called on the RUC chief constable and the British government to say clearly whether they believe the IRA cease-fire had been breached.
Gary McMichael of the UDP, which is linked to the UDA, said the IRA statement is an effort to get itself off the hook, but that it has failed to do so. The Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, said that unless words ceased to have any meaning, the firing of weapons ended the cease-fire.
Man charged in murder
Meanwhile, a 45-year-old man was remanded in custody at Belfast Magistrates Court charged with murdering Bennett, whose body was found behind a GAA Club in West Belfast on July 30. It is believed that Bennett was an RUC informer.
The accused man, Thomas Allsop, who came from the New Lodge Road area, where Bennett also lived, is denying the charge and says he has never been involved in any paramilitary group.
An RUC man told the court that Allsop is not believed to be the gunman.
IRA, Blair meeting denied
Also, both Downing Street and Sinn Féin have dismissed a report in a London Sunday newspaper that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had a face-to-face meeting with members of the IRA Army Council last month.
The paper claimed the IRA made a direct offer to decommission all its weapons by May 2,000. Sinn Féin says the story is untrue. A spokesman for Blair said all his contacts with the Republican movement have been through Sinn Féin.