Killing sparks fear of terror feud

Killing sparks fear of terror feud
Henry McDonald
The Observer
Sunday October 15, 2000

Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government faces a new crisis after the family of a murdered republican dissident last night claimed the Provisional IRA killed him.

The allegation calls into question the Provisionals’ ceasefire and puts further pressure on First Minister David Trimble to resign from the Executive with Sinn Fein.

The shooting of Real IRA man Joe O’Connor, 26, in West Belfast last Friday could also spark a bloody feud between mainstream republicans and dissidents.

The father of three was shot seven times in the head outside his mother’s home in Whitecliff Parade, only yards from where his grandfather, Francisco Notarantonio, was killed by loyalists 13 years ago this week.

His mother, Margaret O’Connor told The Observer of the minutes leading up to the killing. Two masked gunmen, backed by look-outs with two-way radios at either end to her son’s car as he pulled up to visit her.

‘One of them put his foot against the door to prevent him getting out. He then fired into the car at Joe. They also tried to shoot my brother, Anthony, who was in the car with my son, but he got away. They fired seven shots into Joe, five in his head and two in his face.

‘I know it was the Provisional IRA because up to 20 people said they saw who it was as they took their masks off before getting away. They killed Joe because he would not toe their line and opposed them going into Stormont.’

The murdered man’s sister, Margaret Lennon, claimed the Provos had tried to shoot O’Connor in a bar on the Poleglass estate in West Belfast the previous week. But when the IRA gang arrived, the dissident had just left.

Mrs Lennon said that last March one of her brothers had been abducted and questioned by the IRA over his support for republican dissident groups. The kidnappers hijacked a bus belonging to the Catholic Church to transport her brother to a ‘safe house’ in the nearby Beechmount area, where he was stripped naked, beaten and questioned about dissident republican activity, she said.

Her brother would have keen killed then, but for Real IRA gunmen, who went to IRA supporters’ homes in Ballymurphy to demand his release.

She added: ‘I heard the shots that killed my brother. At first I thought they were fireworks. Joe was killed because he was a true republican and did not agree with the Provos going into Stormont. He died because he spoke out. If this is the new police force on offer, then God help us.’

Mrs O’Connor said her entire family had voted for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for almost two decades. Her brother, Victor Notarantonio, added: ‘We were always for Adams, but never again.’

He criticised claims in some national newspapers that the other dissident group, the Continuity IRA, carried out the murder. ‘Everybody in this area knows that is a lie,’ he said, ‘They [the Provisionals] thought they could get away with this killing. They thought it would be no claim, no blame, that people would think it was the loyalists. But now the people know that the Provisional IRA did this to a fellow republican.’

Victor Notarantonio’s father was killed in disputed circumstances in 1987 when Ulster Defence Association gunmen entered his home and shot him dead as he slept.

Last month the Government attempted to gag newspapers allegations that Francisco Notarantonio was set up by British agents to save a top IRA informer. It is alleged that UDA mole Brian Nelson – an agent for the Army’s Force Research Unit – had unwittingly found information about a spy inside the IRA, codenamed Steak Knife. Nelson told his handlers that the UDA intended to assassinate ‘Steak Knife’. The FRU panicked and saved their IRA mole by making Notarantonio a ‘substitute target’.

Ballymurphy is a stronghold for mainstream republicans. But there is a sign of dissent just yards from where O’Connor died. Along a wall at the top of Whitecliff Parade is a defiant message: ‘The Real IRA fights on.’

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