Defence lawyer under threat
by Laura Friel
The RUC have been forced to reverse a decision to deny Belfast defence lawyer Pádraigín Drinan protection under the Key Persons Protection Scheme. In a remarkable parallel to the case of Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who was repeatedly denied protection by the NIO, Drinan's application for protection had been turned down because the RUC refused to accept her life was in danger.
In March 1999, Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed in a loyalist car bombing after being repeatedly denied protection under the KPP scheme. The NIO's claim that Nelson was not included within the scheme because she had not applied was later exposed as a lie. The question of her safety had repeatedly been raised with NIO officials, with British ministers and with Tony Blair.
Since Nelson's assassination, Pádraigín Drinan has found herself in the front line of loyalist intimidation. Yet despite two attempts on her life and serious intimidation at her home when a loyalist parade stopped outside, the RUC refused to accept that her life was in danger. In February, Pádraigín's application was turned down by British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson specifically on the advice of the RUC.
International pressure and representations from the Dublin government are believed to have been behind the decision to provide the Belfast solicitor with protection. A similar ruling denying protection to Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau Residents Group was recently rescinded after international pressure highlighted the issue.
Meanwhile, evidence that the RUC Special Branch may have had prior knowledge of the plot to kill Rosemary Nelson is beginning to emerge. The information centres on a Belfast man described as a key figure in the Red Hand Defenders, a flag of convenience used by loyalists to circumvent their ceasefires.
The loyalist is believed to be behind the biblical-style codewords used to claim attacks, including the attack which killed Rosemary Nelson. The possibility that the loyalist in question may have been working as an agent for RUC Special Branch at the time of the car bombing raises a number of serious questions.