AS NATO continued its bombing of the Balkans this week, fortunately there had not been a resumption of another war in Northern Ireland. But the renewal of that war remained a danger in the run up to the Good Friday deadline for the handover of power to the new Northern Ireland Assembly. We did not know the outcome of negotiations when Socialist Worker went to press.
But one thing is clear. The peace is being threatened by Unionist politicians, backed up by Tory politicians and the right wing press. They are demanding the IRA hands over weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed to sit in the new Assembly's executive. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble insisted last weekend that Tony Blair backs this demand. "The prime minister is fully aware of my position and is in support of it," Trimble said.
This is utter hypocrisysome of the same people demanding decommissioning of IRA arms are cheering on the firepower being used on people in the Balkans. These politicians are prepared to risk a return to war in Northern Ireland because they want to see the IRA humiliated. But little has been said about the Loyalist paramilitaries and Northern Ireland's sectarian RUC police force.
In recent months Loyalist murder gangs have been waging a terror campaign against Catholic homes with grenades and petrol bombs. There have been an average of two attacks a week against Catholic homes. Apart from the recent murder of civil rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson, this Loyalist terror has been ignored by British politicians and the press.
The anti-Catholic marching season is due to begin this Easter weekend, with Orangemen demanding to march down the Catholic Lower Ormeau Road. Last week Orangemen banged Lambeg drums and sang, "Bomb, bomb the Fenian bitch," near the family home of Rosemary Nelson just days after she was murdered. If the British government is to create the opportunity for genuine peace and equality in Northern Ireland, it should face down the Orangemen and the Loyalists, disband the RUC and pull the British army out of Ireland now.
AN INJUSTICE last week shows how little has changed for Catholics in Northern Ireland. Paul Hobson was let off the charge of murdering a 25 year old Catholic man, Robert Hamill, and instead charged with unlawful fighting and causing an affray. Hobson was one of around 30 Loyalists who attacked Robert, shouting, "Die, die, you Fenian bastard." Robert died 12 days later from brain injuries as a result. Five of the six men originally charged with Robert's murder were let off because the authorities said there was "not enough evidence".
The case has parallels with the murder of Stephen Lawrence, as the Hamills' solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, pointed out before her murder. Armed police officers sat in a jeep just yards from where the Loyalist gang set upon Robert Hamill. But they did nothing to stop them.