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Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Real IRA inmates call for disbandment
Street scene featuring IRA graffiti
Normal life continues as political developments unfold
Jailed members of the Real IRA dissident republican group have issued a statement calling for the leadership of the organisation blamed for the Omagh bombing to stand down.

The statement, from men inside the Irish Republic's high-security Portlaoise jail, said the Real IRA was at an end, and that the leadership had "forfeited all moral authority" to lead the organisation.

First reported in the Sunday Independent newspaper, the statement has been received with a degree of scepticism as there has been no confirmation of disbandment by Real IRA leaders outside jail and the organisation has been active in recent months.

There have been persistent rumours in recent weeks that the Real IRA was about to split.

Michael Gallagher: Sceptical of statement
Michael Gallagher: Sceptical of statement

Speculation has centred on a split among the Real IRA prisoners in Portlaoise over whether or not a ceasefire should be declared.

It would be unusual for a prisoner group to have the authority to disband an organisation.

Police in Northern Ireland have been warning in recent weeks that the dissident threat is at the highest level it has been in several years.

In August the Real IRA killed a man with a booby trap bomb at a Territorial Army barracks in Londonderry and last month the police seized two Real IRA under car booby-trap bombs in County Armagh.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the Omagh bombing said he was sceptical of the statement.

"There is a split and we will see these other people moving forward, but the Real IRA army council has not sanctioned this and the people outside that are involved in the Real IRA," he said.

"Only last week we saw a number of people arrested in Cork and two months ago they killed a man in Derry/Londonderry."

IRA rejection

The prisoners' comments followed a statement by the Provisional IRA which rejected calls from Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Ulster Unionists for its disbandment.

The IRA said it would not accept "the imposition of unrealisable demands".

"There is considerable concern within the IRA at recent developments and at sustained efforts to present the IRA as a threat to the peace process," the statement said.

Northern Ireland's political process remains in crisis following the suspension of the devolved power-sharing government on Monday, amid controversy over allegations of IRA spying within the Northern Ireland Office.

On Saturday Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble called on the IRA to disband, at his party's annual conference in Londonderry.

He said disbandment, not promises, was needed to get devolved government restored in Northern Ireland.

Words like "the war is over" that might once have meant something cut no ice today, he said.

"It is time for conclusions, time for the transition that republicans say they are making, to be completed," Mr Trimble added.

Mr Trimble echoed the comments of Mr Blair, who visited Northern Ireland on Thursday to address the current political crisis.

David Trimble
Trimble: Time for conclusions

Mr Blair had called for an end to the IRA and said it could no longer be "half in, half out" of the process.

Addressing delegates at the UUP conference, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith also called for IRA disbandment.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the Agreement would not be sustained by either public exchanges or private arrangements between the British Government and the IRA and that a process involving all parties was the only way forward.

Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics programme on Saturday, Mr Trimble said he could see no point in the British Government holding round-table negotiations between the parties, as Sinn Fein and the SDLP had suggested.

As the parties continue to criticise each other publicly, talks between the parties in the British and Irish Government officials are expected to take place behind the scenes in an attempt to restore confidence in the political process.

The May date for the Assembly election is being seen as a more pressing concern for some of the parties than any reinstatement of devolution.

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20 Oct 02 | N Ireland
20 Oct 02 | N Ireland
02 Aug 02 | N Ireland
19 Oct 02 | N Ireland
19 Oct 02 | N Ireland
18 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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