OUTLAWED Irish group labeled terrorist by U.S.

Wednesday, May 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The outlawed group widely known as the Real Irish Republican Army, believed responsible for the deadliest bomb attack in Northern Ireland's history, was designated by the State Department Wednesday as a terrorist group under U.S. law.

This means leaders and members of the breakaway group can be denied visas to enter the United States. The order also bans the organization from raising money in the United States and its holdings in U.S. banks can be frozen.

More than 20 suspected members have been jailed, including Michael ``Mickey'' McKevitt, the group's alleged commander, who was arrested in Ireland on March 29 and is being held without bail on terrorism charges.

According to recent news reports, an American informant working for the FBI and the British domestic intelligence service MI5 succeeded in infiltrating the Real IRA and is expected to provide detailed testimony against its ringleaders later this year.

The Real IRA surfaced in the wake of the Irish Republican Army's 1997 cease-fire that paved the way for a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Its members bitterly oppose any accommodation with Britain and demand the unification of predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland and the solidly Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland.

The group's most notorious act was a 1998 car bombing in the town of Omagh. The blast killed 29 people, Protestant and Catholic alike, most of them women and children, and wounded more than 300.

It was designated a foreign terrorist organization by Edmund J. Hull, acting coordinator of the counterterrorism office of the State Department, in an entry in the Federal Register on Friday.

It is known also as The Thirty-two County Sovereignty Movement and The Irish Republican Army Prisoners Welfare Association.

Relatives of the Omagh victims, who had campaigned for more than a year for the United States to take the action, welcomed the move. They particularly applauded the U.S. ruling that the political and prisoners welfare groups _ both of which remain legal in Britain and Ireland _ are Real IRA fronts and should be banned as well.

``The message coming out from America is more important than the money being stopped,'' said Michael Gallagher, whose only son, Adrian, died in the Aug. 15, 1998 blast.

David Trimble, the Protestant leader of Northern Ireland's coalition government, said the U.S. action ``will deny the Real IRA an important source of fund raising and will refuse their apologists and supporters access to the U.S.A.''

Trimble, who faces rising Protestant pressure to stop sharing power with the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, said the decision was ``important at a symbolic level. It sends a strong and clear signal that time has run out for Irish republican terrorist organizations.''

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the terrorist listing is likely to boost the dissidents' standing within the most hard-line section of Irish-American opinion.

``If anything, it may have the effect of giving these people an exaggerated sense of their own importance,'' said Adams, who was banned from traveling to the United States until 1994, shortly before the IRA called a cease-fire.