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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Northern Ireland chronology: 2003
The key events in Northern Ireland's chronology in 2003. Click on the links to go to other years.



2 January 2003: Roy Green, a 32 year old UDA member and former loyalist prisoner, is shot dead in an apparent feud killing by opponents of Johnny Adair. The UFF says it killed him because he was a "double agent" between rival loyalist groups.

5 January 2003: Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson says the unionist community "has lost all confidence in this process... The only way this will work is if the republican movement disbands". SDLP leader Mark Durkan attacks both the UUP and Sinn Fein. "On the one hand Jeffrey Donaldson says the only issue is the IRA, while on the other Sinn Fein continue their mantra that the primary responsibility for failure to implement the Agreement rests with the British Government... People are sick of seeing the same old blame game being played out."

9 January 2003: An IRA statement says the peace process is under threat from "the British military establishment, its intelligence agencies and from the loyalist murder gangs". David Trimble says the statement is the "work of people living in an unreal world". PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde tells the US National Committee on Foreign Policy "there are people who want me to fail. Some of those people are within my organisation".

10 January 2003: Johnny Adair is returned to prison Secretary of State Paul Murphy revokes his licence. Mr Murphy says Adair had proved during his release that he was a danger to others and likely to reoffend. In a letter to the loyalist leader, Mr Murphy says Adair had been involved in directing terrorism, money laundering, drug dealing and extortion rackets.

14 January 2003: Former prime minister Sir Edward Heath appears before the bloody Sunday Inquiry. He says the events had been a "disaster" but suggestions the killings were planned or that there was a cover-up were "absurd".

17 January 2003: The UVF and Red Hand Commando break contact with the international decommissioning body. David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party which has links to the UVF, breaks contact with Sinn Fein, saying he does not know republican intentions towards his community.

22 January 2003: A number of attacks in loyalist areas of Belfast indicate a growing loyalist feud.

24-25 January 2003: Gerry Adams gives two interviews. "If a British government is serious about completing its obligation then it puts a huge onus on republicans to be imaginative," he tells a newspaper. The next day he adds: "When I say that the IRA is not the cause of the crisis, this is not to suggest that allegations of IRA activities do not cause political difficulties in the unionist constituency. They do of course; and regardless of whether they are real or unfounded. Irish republicans know that".

30 January 2003: The UP and PUP boycott round-table talks at Stormont, saying they were a facade.

1-2 February 2003: John Gregg, a UDA leader and Robert Carson, are dead in Belfast. The murder is immediately linked to the ongoing feud between mainstream UDA and its former members from the Shankill Road's C company, led by Johnny Adair. Three other loyalists also find their homes attacked, including that of Sammy Duddy, spokesman for the Ulster Political Research Group and opponent of Johnny Adair. A later statement in the name of the Red Hand Defenders claims it was responsible for the death of Gregg.

4 February 2003: The UDA gives supporters of Johnny Adair 48 hours to leave the former commander or face further attacks as "enemies of Ulster".

6 February 2003: Johnny Adair's wife, Gina, close supporter John White and others flee in the middle of the night to Scotland after being driven out of their homes by loyalist opponents.

19 February 2003: A poll conducted by Queen's University and the Joseph Rowntree Trust finds only a third of Protestants asked would support the Good Friday Agreement in another referendum.
The UDA dump 14 pipe bombs at a playing field ""as part of the ongoing steps to stabilise and normalise loyalist west Belfast".

22 February 2003: The UDA/UFF announces a 12 month ceasefire and says only the Ulster Political Research Group will have authority to issue statements on its behalf. Four days later it denies the paramilitary group was responsible for an attack on a family in Lurgan.

3-5 March 2003: Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern host talks at Hillsborough with all the pro-Agreement parties. Mr Blair announces scheduled elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly are being put back to 29 May after there is no breakthrough in the talks.

10 March 2003: David Trimble says republicans can save the process through saying the war is over, visible decommissioning and an end to paramilitary activities.

12 March 2003: Congressman Peter King, a close Washington ally of Sinn Fein, commends new chief constable Hugh Orde and predicts the party will soon sign up to the policing board.

29 March 2003: Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams says he can foresee a situation where his party would join the Policing Board, a key institution to emerge from the Good Friday Agreement. The party later agrees to hold a special conference should the question of joining the policing board emerge.

7 April 2003: Secretary of State Paul Murphy says US President George Bush can put pressure on the IRA to disarm.

8 April 2003: George Bush puts his name to a joint statement by the British and Irish governments saying Northern Ireland must abandon paramilitarism.

10 April 2003: The British and Irish governments postpone at the last minute the publication of a blueprint to complete implementaiton of the Good Friday Agreement. They indicate that the expected response to the document from the IRA was not "sufficient".

13 April 2003: Former British Army agent and UDA member Brian Nelson dies of natural causes, a week before the publication of the Stevens report into alleged conspiracy between military officers and loyalist paramilitaries.

14 April 2003: The British and Irish governments ask the IRA for "clarification" of a secret statement at the weekend on its position towards the peace process.

15 April 2003: The IRA says it has clarified its secret statement.

23 April 2003: Tony Blair says the parties are "frustratingly close" to a deal - but reveals that he believes the impasse is due to "uncertainty" over the secret commitments given by the IRA. He says he needs answers to three questions:

  • Does the IRA intend an end to all activities including targeting?
  • Does the IRA intend to put all its arms beyond use?
  • Does the IRA's position mean a final closure of the conflict?

    27 April 2003: Gerry Adams tells the governments that the IRA's statement is of "completely peaceful intent" and that its logic is there "should be no activities inconsistent with this". He stresses that should the parties and governments "fulfill their commitments ... this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict".

    1 May 2003: Prime Minister Tony Blair announces he is postponing assembly elections until the autumn because of a lack of clarity over the IRA's position. He accuses the IRA of point-blank refusing to completely rule out all paramilitary-related behaviour as described by the governments. At the same time, the governments publish the much-delayed blueprint for tying up the final issues on the Good Friday Agreement.

    The document includes a commitment to repeal the power to suspend the assembly, a major scaling back of the military and proposals to begin devolving policing and justice to Northern Ireland.

    The papers also include proposals for a "monitoring body" to investigate paramilitary activities and arrangements to permit the return of IRA members who are "on the run".

    6 May 2003: The IRA releases two statements on the peace process. The first was the draft that had been passed to the prime ministers in April. The second commented on the state of the peace process.

    The IRA said it had been on the verge of a third act of decommissioning weapons. The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would provide the "context in which the IRA could definitely set aside arms". To carry this out, it said, would mean calling an "army convention", what the IRA describes as the body which represents the views of all its activists.

    11 May 2003: A number of newspapers claim that a West Belfast man, Freddy Scappaticci, is the illusive secret agent "Stakeknife" who allegedly infiltrated the upper echelons of the IRA. Mr Scappaticci vehemently denies the allegations and eventually launches a legal attempt to force the government to say he was not Stakeknife.

    18 May 2003: David Trimble denies suggestions that the UUP would run candidates in the Irish Republic - but he says citizens there should be allowed to apply for British passports just as Northern Ireland people can apply for them in the Republic.

    19 May 2003: A poll in the unionist Newsletter newspaper finds only 27% of those surveyed supported the Good Friday Agreement - but the figure rose to 76% if the IRA were to disband.

    21 May 2003: The first meeting of a District Policing Partnership in Omagh is abandoned after Republican protesters drown out the committee. Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty later criticises the protest.

    25 May 2003: Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams says: "Republicans and nationalists need to approach northern Protestants in the language of invitation. This should be reflected in the words and political concepts we use daily. Sinn Fein's engagement with the unionist community is a sincere effort to listen to and understand unionist concerns."

    27 May 2003: UUP leader David Trimble says the IRA should spend the summer preparing for the "act of completion" which will make a resumption of the assembly possible by October.

    29 May 2003: Police charge Ken Barrett with the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

    6 June 2003: Police find the body of missing loyalist Alan MCCullough. The UFF say they carried out the killing, linking it to the previous killing of loyalist leader John Gregg and Jonathan Stewart.

    11 June 2003: Irish Republic prime minister Bertie Ahern meets representatives of the Loyalist Commission in Dublin.

    17June 2003: David Trimble wins the narrow backing of his party for London and Dublin's proposals for breaking the impasse over the Good Friday Agreement. MP Jeffrey Donaldson and two colleagues later announce they are resigning the party whip in protest against Mr Trimble's policies.

    27 June 2003: The UUP suspends the three rebel MPs, Jeffrey Donaldson, Martin Smyth and David Burnside after they say they will refuse the party whip at Westminster in protest against leader David Trimble's strategy. The decision leads to a summer of behind-the-scenes battles in the party over the three MPs' fate.

    13 July 2003: The annual Drumcree march passes off peacefully after Orangemen make a protest at the security barriers preventing their route, before then dispersing.

    18 July 2003: The Orange Order makes a formal proposal to the residents of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown aimed at ending the dispute. The organisation proposes to be allowed one final annual parade along the Garvaghy Road as part of a deal which accepts that all future marches are subject to the approval of residents. Should residents oppose a march, the Orange Order would neither attempt one nor protest.

    7 August 2003: Michael McKevitt is convicted of directing terrorism as leader of the so-called Real IRA. Amid tight security, the Dublin court jails him for 20 years.

    8 August 2003: The government announces it will give the relatives of the Omagh victims the 800,000 they need to pursue a private prosecution against those they believe to be responsible for the 1998 bomb.

    18 August 2003: Freddie Scappaticci loses his legal big to force the Northern Ireland Office to state that he is not "Stakeknife", the alleged mole who penetrated the heart of the IRA.

    26 August 2003: Remains unearthed at a beach near Carlingford, County Louth, are thought to be those of Jean McConville. Mrs McConville, a mother of 10, was abducted from her west Belfast home in 1972 after going to the aid of a dying soldier. The 37-year-old was one of the so-called "disappeared", people murdered by the IRA and buried at secret locations during the 1970s. Mystery surrounds how the remains were found, with the Irish Government denying that they had been led to the location by new information from the IRA.

    4 September 2003: Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the US's Central Intelligence Agency, joins the four-strong Independent Monitoring Commission charged with scrutinising paramilitary ceasefires and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement. The three of other commissioners are: John Grieve, formerly a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, Lord Alderdice, the first Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Joseph Brosnan, former Secretary General of the Department of Justice in Ireland. The announcement comes as the main parties tentatively begin exploratory talks aimed at restoring devolution.

    6 September 2003: David Trimble wins another party vote to back the suspension of rebel MPs Jeffrey Donaldson, Martin Smyth and David Burnside.

    8 September 2003: Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy says there will be "no return" to the segregated-style arrangements of the Maze Prison at Maghaberry, the principle prison now used to house those convicted of terrorism-related offences. The statement comes as a number of republican and loyalist prisons continue to protest against the manner in which they are being held. Elsewhere, police in the Irish Republic resume the search for Columba McVeigh, one of the remaining "disappeared" - people murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in the 1970s. They begin digging at a bog near Emyvale, County Monaghan.

    15 September 2003: UUP leader David Trimble meets Irish PM Bertie Ahern as tentative talks continue. Mr Trimble says an end to paramiitarism was needed to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly - but the relatively peaceful summer had provided a good backdrop for progress. Meanwhile in Belfast, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy says the new monitoring body "can restore confidence" among the parties.

    16 September 2003: Policing Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine says death threats from dissident republicans against members of the policing board are the organisation's biggest test. At district level, two independent members of policing partnerships resign because of intimidation.

    14 October 2003 The US president's special envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, has said he is optimistic about the prospects for elections to a new assembly and the restoration of devolution. Mr Haass was speaking after talks with the main parties.

    18 October 2003 Republicans must demonstrate a commitment to ending paramilitarism for good, David Trimble tells his party conference.






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