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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK


Murder prompts fears for IRA ceasefire

Police blame unidentified paramilitaries for the killing

A leading member of the Progressive Unionist Party has said the murder of a Belfast taxi driver is proof that the IRA ceasefire is starting to unravel.

David Ervine told Radio Ulster on Saturday that he was no longer optimistic about the prospects for success in the review of the Northern Ireland peace process.

David Ervine: Loyalist pessimism is deepening
He said: ''This murder is proof that the IRA are losing patience with the process.

''We are beginning to see that elements of the Provos (IRA) are looking like they are drifting away from commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.''

Mr Ervine, whose party has links with two of the main loyalist paramilitary groups, the UVF and Red Hand Commando, said that the murder had a very negative impact on the loyalist community's confidence in the process.

[ image: David Ervine: Northern Ireland a pot waiting to boil over]
David Ervine: Northern Ireland a pot waiting to boil over
He said: "I think things are beginning to fray at the edges.

"That certainly is impressing on the mind of loyalism that the Good Friday Agreement may not be the vehicle which delivers and I think that the more that sense of pessimism exists, the worse things are going to get."

Mr Ervine added that he feared Northern Ireland was a pot building up a head of steam, which could boil over in September, when the review of the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement is due to start.

He said negative megaphone diplomacy by the party leaders must stop in the run up to the review or it was in danger of becoming a 'nonsense' with parties staying away, or of not taking place at all.

He said: "If we can't be positive then we must shut up."

'Unionist negativism'

However, Sinn Fein chief whip Alex Maskey has accused Mr Ervine of "pandering to the negative elements of unionism" who wish to push Sinn Fein out of the Assembly.

The Search for Peace
"If he were to analyse Sinn Fein's dossier on the state of the peace process, he will see republicans remain fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement,'' the West Belfast Assemblyman said.

"We do not speak for the IRA but Gerry Adams said yesterday that Sinn Fein believes the ceasefire is holding.

"What is happening is certain people are predictably jumping at every opportunity on every incident to seek Sinn Fein's exclusion from the Assembly.''

Mr Maskey added: "David Ervine also cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that loyalist violence has been almost a daily experience, to the fact that there have been arms finds as recently last week in loyalist areas, to the acknowledged fact that the two largest loyalist groupings - the UDA and the UVF - are engaged in a feud.

"I would ask him to accentuate the positive as he has done in the past and stop the negative media spin which may actually be acting as a smokescreen for what is going on in his community."

Paramilitary style execution

[ image: Charles Bennett was found on the Falls Road on Friday]
Charles Bennett was found on the Falls Road on Friday
The police said the murder of taxi driver Charles Bennett, 22, from north Belfast bore all the hallmarks of a paramilitary-style execution.

Mr Bennett was found dead behind a social club on Milltown Row, in the Falls Road area of west Belfast on Friday, with a cloth over his face and his hands tied behind his back. He had been missing for five days.

BBC Northern Ireland's Jeremy Mitchell reports on the murder
He was last seen at his girlfriend's house on Sunday afternoon when he answered a knock on the door and said he would return in 15 minutes.

Both the SDLP and unionists have blamed republicans for the murder.

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