Irish Extremists Accused Of Undermining Peace Process ‘Cowboys’ Use Violence To Polarize Factions

On Thursday morning, as Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams stood outside 10 Downing St., in London, assuring the world that the IRA cease-fire was holding, John Hughes stood here fuming, watching smoke rise from his smoldering pub.

While Adams spoke in conciliatory tones about his party’s terms for a settlement in Northern Ireland, Hughes was complaining that while Adams talks peace, some of those he represents practice war.

Hughes said four masked men who claimed they were from the Irish Republican Army forced their way into his pub after closing time and firebombed it.

“If this is peace, we don’t want it,” said Hughes. “We have to live with these cowboys at the end of the day.”

While Adams tries to project an image of someone who is willing to compromise on the absolutes for which hundreds of his followers died and thousands more, including him, were imprisoned, he is being undermined by a small but growing group of fundamentalists.

The “cowboys” Hughes complains about are IRA members who, if they did not destroy his pub, are not adhering to their cease-fire as assiduously as Adams professes. Police say that since calling its cease-fire July 20, the IRA has killed at least two men and has shot or beaten dozens of petty criminals and misfits in attacks which nearly everyone but the IRA considers a violation of its cease-fire.

It is those who have broken away from the IRA, however, that pose the most serious threat and who police say have bombed several predominantly Protestant towns in provocative attacks that, like the random killings of Catholics by loyalists, are meant to polarize the two communities and wreck the peace talks.

Republicans have been restrained, compared to loyalists, the Protestant extremists who have killed more than 20 people in recent months. Bomb warnings have been given, suggesting IRA dissidents want to kill the peace process, not people. But most Protestants who want the union with Britain preserved make no distinction between the IRA and its breakaway factions, and unionist politicians cite the violence in refusing to talk to Sinn Fein.

Last week, Adams outlined what he said his followers need to endorse a settlement. Given that Adams represents a movement that is steeped in blood sacrifice, the list was, according to British and Irish diplomats, unexpectedly reasonable. Adams acknowledged that a united Ireland would not emerge from the talks, but that republicans primarily wanted cross-border authorities that gave the Irish government real powers in Northern Ireland, and legislation that would guarantee an “equality agenda” where nationalists were treated the same as unionists.

But while the pragmatic approach of Adams suggests someone who is willing to compromise and sees a settlement as inevitable, the actions of some people he is being held accountable for are making Protestants, and even Catholics like Hughes, increasingly skeptical.

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