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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK

UK Politics

Mowlam: I'll act on evidence

Police search the area outside the house where the attack took place

Evidence has not linked loyalist groups officially on ceasefire to sectarian attacks in Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam has said.

The Northern Ireland secretary promised to act immediately if the Royal Ulster Constabulary found proof to back up rumours linking loyalist terrorists to recent attacks.

The Search for Peace
Her comments came before the family of a Catholic grandmother murdered by a loyalist bomb attack watched her funeral.

Protestant and Catholic churchmen performed the service in memory of Elizabeth O'Neill, 59, who died after an explosive was thrown into her house, in Corcrain Drive, in Portadown, Co Armagh.

Both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Orange Volunteers have denied involvement in the killing.

Dr Mowlam insisted RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan was working hard to find the truth.

[ image: Mo Mowlam:
Mo Mowlam: "I can't act on hearsay"
"The LVF have denied any participation and the chief constable is keeping an open mind," she told the BBC.

"I can assure people that I'm keeping this under more scrutiny than usual and let me say that if I get the evidence I will not shirk from making a judgement.

"I will look again tomorrow morning at the evidence available.

"There is a lot of rumour as always in Northern Ireland, there's a lot of suggestion, but it's difficult. If evidence comes to light I will act. I can't act on hearsay.

"It's not off the cuff, it's not a kind of casual view. We have procedures in place. We're not sitting by on this."

Growing violence warning

But as the 30 June deadline for agreement between Northern Ireland's political parties approaches - plus the Orange marching season following close behind - many predict growing violence in coming weeks.

Mo Mowlam: "I'm keeping this under more scrutiny"
Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine, who has links with loyalist paramilitaries, said those who opposed a deal would seek to destroy momentum

"I've absolutely no doubt that there will be more attacks in the coming weeks," he said.

[ image: Politicians are worried about a return to violence]
Politicians are worried about a return to violence
"I think that the deadline which was quite correctly set by the prime minister for 30 June so that Northern Ireland can go live with devolution and the same time as Scotland and Wales will create the situation where those who can't countenance change ... will become more and more strident as the possibility increases for a deal."

Dr Mowlam accepted the pessimistic scenario, but urged peace process participants not to let the wreckers win.

"There are groups on either side on the extremes who don't want this to work," she said.

"They have been doing all they could for the last year to destabilise it and there is no reason as we reach the deadline of the 30th - which I can assure people is a serious deadline - that we would not see greater stress, greater challenges."

She acknowledged that progress on either Drumcree or the political talks would make resolving the other issue more easy.

But she said she was "not prepared to admit defeat" and urged everyone involved to hold their nerve and make progress "inch by inch".

Ahead of the funeral on Monday, Mrs O'Neill's son Martin attacked the killers as cowards.

"I hope they are proud of their handiwork," he said. "I hope they think they are big men.

"How many more innocent people are going to suffer like this?"

Dr Mowlam said her thoughts would be with the family as they mourned the "absolutely futile killing of a grandmother".

She added: "We must now make progress so that other families do not have to go through what the O'Neills are going through."

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