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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 19:56 GMT

Paramilitary groups across the divide

The IRA has historic links to Sinn Fein

Paramilitary groups exist across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. All the main organisations are now observing ceasefires. But a number of splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the loyalist Red Hand Defenders, continue to commit politically-motivated acts of violence. Concern equally continues about the high level of so-called punishment beatings in the province.

Irish Republican Army The main republican paramilitary group, the IRA was founded nearly 80 years ago to fight for an independent Ireland. The IRA has historic links to Sinn Fein.

In 1969, the IRA split into the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. The Official IRA took a more socialist line while the Provisionals became more militant, initially defending Catholics against loyalist attacks then going on the offensive.

The Search for Peace
The Official IRA still exists, but when people refer to the IRA nowadays, they usually mean the Provisional IRA. This group restored its ceasefire in July 1997 - a move which allowed Sinn Fein to join the peace talks.

In April 1998, a statement by the IRA said: "Let us make it clear that there will be no decommissioning by the IRA. This issue ... is a matter only for the IRA, to be decided upon and pronounced upon by us."

The IRA only agrees with some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, but has largely maintained its second ceasefire.

Prisoners belonging to the IRA are eligible for early release under the Agreement and some have been freed. Sinn Fein has 18 seats in the assembly with the prospect of two seats on the executive.

Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters The UFF has been used as a cover name for the UDA, though both organisations are now outlawed.

Formed in 1971, the UDA was an umbrella organisation for loyalist groups and had thousands of members at its peak. Although most killings were claimed by the UFF, the UDA was banned in 1992 for being primarily engaged in terrorism.

The group has been on ceasefire since 1994 and is pro-talks and pro-Agreement. However, its political wing the Ulster Defence Party won no seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The ceasefire was breached in January 1998, when the UFF carried out three killings following the murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison. The UFF has links with the Ulster Democratic Party and as a result, the UDP was suspended from the peace process for a time.

Since then, its ceasefire has remained intact. UFF prisoners are eligible for early release and some have been released.

[ image: UVF: The group has been on ceasefire since 1994]
UVF: The group has been on ceasefire since 1994
Ulster Volunteer Force The name dates back to a Protestant force formed to oppose Home Rule in 1912. It was revived in 1966 in opposition to liberal unionism and stated its mission was to kill IRA members.

It is believed to be a smaller organisation than the UFF. Responsible for dozens of killings, the UVF was behind the 1994 shootings of Catholics watching a World Cup match in Loughnisland, County Down.

The UVF has links with the Progressive Unionist Party. It is for the Good Friday Agreement and has been on ceasefire since 1994.

Prisoners belonging to the UVF are eligible for early release under the terms of the agreement and some have been released. The Progressive Unionist Party won two seats on the assembly

Continuity IRA A hard-line republican group violently opposed to any deal not based on a united Ireland.

It was responsible for the 1996 bombing of the Killyhelvin Hotel in Enniskillen and the security forces linked it to attacks in 1998, such as the Moira and Portadown bombs in February.

The security forces believe the Continuity IRA is linked to Republican Sinn Fein, which split off from the main party in 1986, though that party denies having a military wing.

The Real IRA This dissident republican faction has emerged as one of the most dangerous groups opposed to the Good Friday settlement.

[ image: Omagh: 29 people died in the bomb in August 1998]
Omagh: 29 people died in the bomb in August 1998
It is reportedly led by the man who resigned as the IRA's quartermaster-general in October 1997 after he broke with Sinn Fein because of its support for the peace process.

Reports have put its membership, which is based largely in the Irish Republic, at between 50 to 70 dissidents.

It is believed to be responsible for a series of attacks, including a 500lb car bomb which devastated the market town of Banbridge, Co Armagh in August 1998.

In May 1998, following a mortar attack on a police station in Co Fermanagh, it declared that a "war machine is once again being directed at the British Cabinet".

It was responsible for the Omagh bombing in 15 August 1998 in which 29 people died. The group apologised for the civilian deaths claiming it was aiming for commercial targets.

The Real IRA called a ceasefire less than a month after the Omagh atrocity. The ceasefire has not been recognised.

Irish National Liberation Army Formed in 1975, mainly from disaffected members of the IRA unhappy at the ceasefire. The INLA is a relatively small group and its attacks seem to come in waves.

At times in its history it has operated in concert with other republican groups - three of the 10 republican hunger strikers who died in 1981 were in the INLA. Now, however, it has the reputation even among republican militants of being extreme.

[ image: Billy Wright: Murdered in 1997]
Billy Wright: Murdered in 1997
It first became known internationally when it planted the bomb which killed Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman Airey Neave at the House of Commons in 1979.

The group was responsible for the murder of leading loyalist paramilitary Billy Wright inside the Maze Prison on 27 December 1997. The killing sparked off a cycle of violence which lasted for several weeks.

In August 1998, in the wake of the Omagh bomb, the group called its own ceasefire. The ceasefire has not yet been recognised.

Direct Action Against Drugs DAAD is believed by the security forces to be a cover name for the IRA. It was responsible for the murder of Brendan Campbell in February 1998 and has been linked to a number of other killings dating back to 1995.

It carried out seven murders during the first IRA ceasefire.

Loyalist Volunteer Force Extreme loyalist group formerly led by Billy Wright, who was killed in the Maze prison at Christmas 1997. It is believed to be formed mainly from loyalists dissatisfied with other paramilitary organisations.

Members of the LVF at the Maze were questioned about the murder in March of one of their comrades, David Keys, after he was questioned about a double murder at a pub in Poyntzpass.

In March 1998, the group threatened Protestants who colluded in the peace process. In May, it declared an "unequivocal" ceasefire to encourage people to vote No in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

The LVF ceasefire has now been recognised and their prisoners will be eligible for early release, although none have yet been set free.

Red Hand Defenders This dissident loyalist group emerged during the Drumcree crisis of summer 1998.

They carried a bomb blast that led to the death of a Portadown policeman in September 1998 before murdering a Catholic man in north Belfast a month later.

Other acts of violence, such as a pipe bomb attack in February 1999, were fairly crude before they were put on the proscribed list in March.

But within two weeks the group showed a new level of ability in the car bomb murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in Lurgan.

Orange Volunteers Like the Red Hand group, this group is thought to be made up of dissidents from the LVF and UFF.

In December the two groups caused confusion when both admitted carrying out the same grenade attack on a pub in County Antrim.

A month earlier eight hooded men, armed with grenades and claiming to be Orange Volunteers, put on a show of strength for a television crew.

They claim to have attacked Catholic businesses and have threatened to murder IRA prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement.

They were added to the proscribed list at the same time as the Red Hand Defenders.

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