A paramilitary group that wants to keep Northern Ireland united with Britain is threatening to take a page out of the book of the Irish Republican Army.
The IRA has used bombs in Britain to try to win freedom for Northern Ireland. Now a spokesman for the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) says his paramilitary group may use the same tactics in the Republic of Ireland.
In an interview last weekend with this reporter and a reporter for the Irish Times, the first ever given by a member of the LVF, a senior LVF leader warned that foreign businesspeople working in the Irish Republic were "legitimate targets" because of what he described as Dublin's "interference" in Northern Ireland.
"The Irish Republic cannot withstand a terrorist offensive," the LVF leader warned. "What scale of violence is necessary to damage it?... Maybe just killing six people - three foreign industrialists and their wives and telling the rest of them to get out. This would put the republic's economy up the Swanee."
The LVF was established last year following the murder of a Catholic taxi driver in Portadown, Northern Ireland. After that killing, the main loyalist paramilitary group expelled several members for breaking its cease-fire, in place since October 1994. These men now form the leadership of the LVF, the smallest of three Protestant paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The LVF has been responsible for several attacks on Catholics as well as a failed bomb attempt in the Irish Republic in May.
By speaking out now, the LVF is showing its unhappiness with the conciliatory approach adopted by loyalist parties like the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). Two other smaller, stridently British loyalist parties have refused to meet representatives of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and the Irish government at talks set to begin Monday. The UUP, the largest party, is expected to announce its decision tomorrow, and the PUP is expected to follow its lead.
The LVF does not appear to have the capability to launch a major bombing offensive in the Irish Republic. In May, a flask packed with commercial explosives only partially exploded in the center of Dundalk, a town in the Irish Republic near the border with Northern Ireland. Little damage was done.
Nevertheless, security forces are taking note of the LVF threats. The group is believed to have carried out the murder of a prominent Gaelic games figure, Sean Browne, in Derry, Northern Ireland, just weeks before the Dundalk bomb attempt.
The interview with the LVF senior member took place in a loyalist area in Northern Ireland where Union Jacks fly proudly from every lamppost and the messages painted on every wall proclaim Northern Ireland as British. The LVF member, who identified himself only as "Tom," outlined the LVF demand that Northern Ireland remain firmly in the United Kingdom.
The LVF, he says, is suspicious of Mo Mowlam, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland. "She's not even neutral," he said. "She's pro-nationalist, pro-republican."
The LVF demands that before any peace talks begin, the Irish Republic must first remove the territorial claim it makes on Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution, a claim described by the LVF member as "illegitimate, immoral, and illegal."
Although the LVF has fewer than 100 members, it has been a source of embarrassment to the larger loyalist groups.
David Ervine, leader of the PUP, says that LVF activity "is probably to be expected. The people with guns might be around for a long time, and we had better come to terms with that. We are moving toward a new and honorable future. The LVF is frankly a sideshow. What matters is that the main loyalist paramilitaries have shown over the last three years [of holding to a cease-fire] that they are committed to the search for a democratic peace."