Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

At the end of last week, I went shooting (pheasants) in Northern Ireland. To take a legally held shotgun into the province, you have to fill in a form many weeks beforehand, send it off to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and carry with you the special certificate which they return to you, in addition to your shotgun licence. As is usually the case with people who deal frequently with guns, the RUC were sensible and efficient about the matter. But at Gatwick, both leaving and returning, the confusion and delay were absurd. I thought of saying, 'I am a member of a terrorist group on ceasefire, let me through,' but I feared being recognised as a member of the 'forces of conservatism' and detained in connection with the assassination of Martin Luther King.

After a glorious day in Co. Antrim, we travelled west of the Bann to Omagh and beyond. Here it is possible to see the work of those who claim that they want to 'take the gun out of Irish politics' and I was lucky enough to be guided by people who daily risk their lives trying to protect the innocent against them. It was a curious sensation, while waiting at the traffic lights just beside the epicentre of the Omagh bombing to look across into a caf6 and see sitting there a fat terrorist who has recently been released under the Good Friday Agreement. One interesting fact about the bombing is that the authorities were given intelligence of a possible attack well before it happened. These warnings were ignored. Another is that the bombing could not have taken place without the knowledge and background cooperation of the Provisional IRA. Mid-- Tyrone PIRA permitted the 'Real' IRA to plant the bomb. Real IRA could not exist without Provisional tolerance, and the Provisionals suffer in no way from its work. When we at the Daily Telegraph interviewed Tony Blair in No. 10 Downing Street last week, he told us that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness needed help against the 'forces of conservatism' in the IRA: the Real IRA gives Adams and McGuinness more leverage with the gullible.

The countryside in that part of Northern Ireland is extraordinary. The land is poor and most of the farming remains lowgrade and backward. But out of the bog rise amazing new houses, as ugly as they are luxurious. Most of these are owned by people who draw the dole. They make their serious money, via the IRA, through drugs, the smuggling of diesel oil and various other forms of racketeering. They bring in large shipments of weapons from the Republic and bury them in the remote hills. In the banks of the narrow streams they plant small bombs to test their explosives for the next time the violence gets real. Most experts expect some big attacks on security services near the border and, on the mainland, against commercial targets where trade with Europe is important. These are predicted by Christmas.

In one village, where there are only two Protestant families, a relatively modest bungalow was pointed out to me. One day a few years back, the young man who was building it, a member of one of these families, was on the roof, watched by his fianc6e. His neighbours in the IRA drove up, held her by her hair and forced her to watch as they shot him 'with as many holes as a teabag'. These 'soldiers" day will come, faster than they could have dreamed. Meanwhile, Chris Patten wants all RUC officers to have their names displayed on their uniforms. Why not insist on their home addresses as well?

I had intended to ask Mr Blair a question about his speeches, but my courage failed me. …

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