- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

BELFAST The killing of a Catholic teenager this week, the latest in a succession of gun attacks, has fueled fears that Northern Ireland is sliding back into its blood-soaked past.

Gerard Lawlor, 19, was fatally shot as he walked home in the early hours of Monday morning. The gunmen are believed to have been Protestants.

Yesterday, hundreds of people turned out for Mr. Lawlor's funeral at a Belfast church, where a Catholic bishop spoke of a "pall of darkness" falling on the city.

"Gerard, a totally innocent young man, [was] murdered for one reason and one reason only he was a Catholic. For some reason, being a Catholic is a crime deemed to merit execution," Reuters news agency quoted Bishop Patrick Walsh as saying at the Mass.

Inside the church, friends and relatives joined Mr. Lawlor's grieving parents, his four brothers, his fiancee and 18-month-old son in celebrating Mass.

One week ago, Protestant loyalists carried out a 30-minute attack on one of North Belfast's Catholic areas. There was a pitched battle between residents and about 40 loyalists. Ten houses were badly damaged.

Gerard Mooney had gasoline poured through his door and was burned out of his home. The police said it was an unprovoked attack.

The Protestant paramilitary group Ulster Defense Association has claimed responsibility for the Lawlor killing, which it called a "measured military response."

It is the first time the Ulster Defense Association has admitted killing anybody since the Good Friday peace accord in 1998, and some observers fear that it marks the resumption of full-scale violence by the hard-line Protestant group.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to the British Parliament on Wednesday, pledged to get tough with any group that breaks the cease-fire, and to rebuild confidence in the peace process.

President Bush expressed support for Mr. Blair. "I condemn the recent violence that has marred the lives of the people of Northern Ireland, and I commend those political and civic leaders who have worked to stop it," Mr. Bush said in a statement.

But in Belfast, none of the political parties was happy with Mr. Blair's speech. Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political affiliate, called it "a surreal sideshow." Mr. Adams criticized the British government for not focusing on loyalist attacks on Catholics and said the real threat to peace came from loyalists, not the IRA.

For their part, Protestant politicians who want Sinn Fein excluded from the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland said Mr. Blair did not go far enough. Mr. Blair did not address the Sinn Fein issue in his speech.

First Minister David Trimble said Mr. Blair's speech was "a 'nearly' statement that got close to saying what needed to be said." He said the promised crackdown is just one more of the vague British plans that could have a negative effect if not implemented properly.


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