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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:17 GMT

Splinter groups threaten peace

LVF: Dissidents have been linked to this group which has called a ceasefire

The breakaway terrorist group the Red Hand Defenders has been linked to the better known Loyalist Volunteer Force.

[ image: Brian Service: Shot dead by group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders]
Brian Service: Shot dead by group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders
Now banned by the government the dissident group has only been heard of on a few occasions.

In October 1998 the Red Hand Defenders said they carried out the murder of Brian Service in north Belfast.

Mr Service, a Catholic, was shot dead as he walked home early on a Saturday morning. He had no paramilitary or criminal connections.

The self-styled Defenders have also admitted being behind the bomb blast that led to the death of RUC constable Frank O'Reilly, after rioting by loyalists in Portadown in September 1998.

[ image: Frank O'Reilly: Died in hospital after five week fight for life]
Frank O'Reilly: Died in hospital after five week fight for life
Constable O'Reilly, a father of three children, died in October after clinging to life for five weeks.

The Red Hand Defenders emerged during the Drumcree crisis in the summer of 1998, and the disturbances surrounding that contentious Orange Order march.

Some security sources say the group is not all that different from the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which has called a ceasefire, and which handed over a small number of weapons to be destroyed as part of the peace process.

The Red Hand Defenders have been linked to other acts of violence, such as a pipe bomb attack on a catholic home in February 1999.

In December they caused confusion when along with another dissident group, the Orange Volunteers, they admitted carrying out the same grenade attack on a pub in County Antrim.

The Search for Peace
It may well be that the two 'organisations' are simply cover names used by a small group of disaffected loyalists, possibly the rump of the LVF.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force was a major threat to the peace process until its leader Billy Wright was imprisoned.

He was shot dead in the Maze prison in December 1997, and the killing led to a sectarian murder campaign in which 12 catholics died.

The Orange Volunteers like the Red Hand Defenders have rarely been heard of, although the name appeared in news reports in the mid 1970's.

In November 1998 eight hooded men, armed with several weapons and grenades, and claiming to be members of the Orange Volunteers put on a show of strength for a local television crew.

They claimed to have attacked a number of catholic businesses and threatened to murder IRA prisoners released as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

While both the Orange Volunteers and Red Hand Defenders may be small in number, the government is clearly concerned enough to impose a ban.

It reflects an awareness in Northern Ireland that what have been minor dangers in the past, have the potential, if left unchecked, to develop into a much more serious threat.

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