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BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson:
"The murder of Joseph O'Connor is now at the centre of a political controversy"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 05:11 GMT
Controversy over republican's murder

Joseph O'Connor was shot as he sat in a car
The Democratic Unionist Party has demanded that action should be taken against Sinn Fein because of claims a dissident republican was murdered by the IRA.

In the assembly on Monday the anti-agreement party urged First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to take action against Sinn Fein following the murder of Joseph O'Connor, who the Real IRA said was a member of their organisation.

The dead man's family and the Real IRA have accused the IRA of shooting him in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast on Friday.

But Mr Trimble told the assembly it was too early to jump to conclusions about who was responsible for the killing.

RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said on Monday that he had not ruled out IRA involvement, which was a "definite line of inquiry," but had yet to reach a firm conclusion.


Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Ian Paisley junior, however, demanded Mr Trimble take immediate action against Sinn Fein, which is linked to the IRA.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Junior
Ian Paisley Junior: Demanding sanctions against Sinn Fein
Mr Paisley said: "Surely this, more than anything else, is a breach of the pledge of office.

"Instead of expressing disappointment, what sanctions is he going to put on Sinn Fein-IRA and their ministers in this government?"

But Mr Trimble said: "We shouldn't jump to conclusions that serve one political party's purpose rather than another's. We need to have a balanced view from the chief constable in order to arrive at a view on the matter."

Kelly denies IRA link

Earlier, Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly said he did not believe the IRA murdered Mr O'Connor, 26, who was shot dead by two men wearing hoods, as he sat in a car at Whitecliff Parade on Friday afternoon.

Joseph O'Connor:
Joseph O'Connor: Shot dead on Friday
One theory about the murder being investigated by the police is that Mr O'Connor was shot as a result of a dispute between rival dissident groups.

However, the victim's mother, Margaret, has said the gunmen were well known in the Ballymurphy area as members of an IRA unit.

In a statement the Real IRA also blamed the IRA and threatened retaliation against the mainstream republican group.

The Real IRA has opposed the current peace process and the ceasefire by the IRA.

The dissident organisation has been behind a number of recent attacks on police and army bases and carried out the Omagh bombing of August 1998, killing 29 people and injuring more than 200 others, shortly after the Good Friday Agreement peace accord was signed.

Threat dismissed

But Mr Kelly said the IRA was not to blame for Mr O'Connor's murder and dismissed the threat.

Gerry Kelly: Real IRA threat against IRA was publicity stunt
He said: "Threatening an organisation like the IRA by a small group like this after 30 years and more of struggle against the British - the people who have made the threat must know that it is of no consequence in that sense.

"They are making the threat for publicity reasons rather than for any other reason."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has offered to meet Mr O'Connor's family.

He said many nationalists and republicans were "dismayed and disappointed at the claims and counter claims" which had followed the murder.

If it emerges that the IRA was responsible, that will put further pressure on the Ulster Unionists to withdraw from the Stormont power-sharing executive.

Confrontation politics

Hardline Ulster Unionists are already demanding that the party should leave the executive because they feel there has not been enough movement on the disarmament issue.

Sir Reg Empey:
Sir Reg Empey: "Disarmament moves have not be made"
Trimble supporter and trade minister Sir Reg Empey said: "Even if it were to take place it was only a minimalist position to allow us to start a process. They were supposed to engage with General de Chastelain [and the International Commission on Decommissioning].

"They were supposed to bring forward proposals about how they were going to put their weapons credibly and verifiably beyond use and we are unaware of any steps that they have taken."

Republicans have said a lack of progress on policing and demilitarisation have stopped further steps being taken.

However, Gerry Kelly said at the weekend that he believed there would be a second inspection of IRA weapons dumps.

He said it would have taken place by now if the British Government had honoured its "commitments on policing and demilitarisation".

The IRA made its offer to open some of its dumps to international inspectors as part of an overall package of implementing all parts of the Good Friday Agreement and in the context of devolution politics working.

Nationalists and republicans are particularly dissatisfied about what they see as government attempts to water down the recommendations on police reform made by the independent Patten commission on the future of policing, in the Police (NI) Bill which is currently passing through parliament.

The Ulster Unionist Party's 860-member ruling council is meeting on 28 October in a debate which could spell the end of its Stormont power-sharing policy.

It is thought the UUP delegates will be asked to pull the party's ministers out of the executive in the absence of IRA decommissioning.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen held talks at Stormont on Monday evening aimed at averting a political crisis.

After the meeting, Mr Cowen said much of their discussion had been about the policing issue.

He said both governments were seeking to being about a situation that would be of benefit to both communities.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Murdered man 'Real IRA member'
14 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA blamed for killing republican
13 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Real IRA activist is murdered
22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissident republicans: Threat to peace
11 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents blamed for attacks
21 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Missile caused MI6 blast
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