There is no republican involvement in a campaign of threats and hoaxes against Sinn Féin figures, including the widow of a recently deceased IRA veteran, it has been claimed.
Churchmen, community leaders and politicians in north Belfast last week demanded an end to alleged republican death threats against Sinn Féin Councillor Briege Meehan, widow of republican Martin Meehan.
The couple had both received a number of death threats in the weeks before the veteran republican’s death. Since her husband’s death Mrs Meehan has continued to be targeted, with two hoax bomb alerts at her home earlier this week.
The threats have been blamed on a previously unknown armed group, the Irish Republican Liberation Army.
Pictures of two masked and armed men claiming to be members of the ‘IRLA’ were circulated to the press last week, accompanied by a statement saying anyone giving information to the PSNI police would be treated as informers.
The IRLA also ordered Sinn Féin’s members of District Policing Partnerships to quit their positions before Christmas or face “military action”.
A spokesman for the group also vowed to step up its campaign of violence in 2008.
“This is a direct response to the Sinn Féin leadership inviting police into republican west Belfast,” he said.
“The present strategy of the Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness is not the way forward. We believe we are the way forward.
“We are going to step up our campaign through the use of armed struggle and we intend to mount attacks against the Crown forces in the six counties. We were established to end British rule in Ireland and defend the six counties against British imperialism.”
But it has since been reported that the gang using the ‘IRLA’ name consists of unionist paramilitaries linked to the LVF and criminal gangs from nationalist north Belfast.
Sinn Féin junior minister Gerry Kelly said the latest hoax alert had been deeply distressing for Briege Meehan. It followed similar alerts targeting Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and leading Ardoyne republican Eddie Copeland the previous week.
“The targeting of Briege Meehan, by people who claim to be republicans, is a disgrace,” Mr Kelly said.
“She has only just lost her husband.
“These people calling themselves republicans have nothing constructive to offer the republican struggle.”
Ardoyne priest Fr Aidan Troy also called for an immediate end to the threats.
“I think it’s particularly disgusting that a woman, who has just lost her husband, is being targeted in this way,” he said.
“I don’t know what these people think they are achieving by putting a grieving grandmother through such pain but I can tell them that they don’t have the support of this community.”
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), which broke away from Sinn Féin in 1998, warned the death threats, and perhaps the group itself, had been “concocted” in a bid to criminalise and “ultimately destroy” republicanism.
“The activity of these criminal gangs serves the combined interests of Sinn Féin and the broader British establishment, including MI5” a statement from the breakaway group said.
“Whatever their agenda is, it is not a republican one and it should be noted that they have done nothing to challenge British rule militarily or politically.
“For the record, republicans have nothing to gain from threatening or attacking Sinn Féin members.
“Indeed it would be a counterproductive exercise.”
* The shooting of a 28-year-old man on the Ballyhill Road in County Antrim on Sunday evening is also being linked to the LVF.
Stuart Hill was shot in the head and back in the gun attack that happened at around 8.40pm on Sunday.
Hill had been involved in a fall out with the loyalist paramilitary group in 2006 and had aligned himself with former UDA boss Alan McClean.
It is understood that Hill survived the gun attack only because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time.