Four West Belfast men have been charged with causing grievous
bodily harm during an alleged attempted abduction in the city on
Friday night, but none were charged with membership of the IRA.
The victim, Bobby Tohill, has claimed that members of the
mainstream Provisional IRA dragged him out of a Belfast city
centre bar and intended to kill him.
Sinn Fein spokespersons have said there should be "no rush to
judgement" of the incident, which has created a fresh storm for
the troubled political process.
A number of masked men armed with batons were said to have
suddenly seized the prominent dissident from the busy Kelly's
Cellars bar in Belfast city centre and bundled him into a van.
The van was stopped when it was met by a police PSNI vehicle in
nearby Castle Street.
Four men in the van were arrested, and the injured Mr Tohill was
The PSNI claimed the arrests had been made by uniformed police
who had simply responded to a call from the bar.
There was widespread disbelief among ordinary republicans that
the mainstream IRA would mount such a high-risk raid at a busy
pub. Some suggested that agents provocateurs intent on damaging
republicanism might have been behind the incident.
The IRA have made no statement on the matter.
Mr Tohill said he had recently received a number of death
threats from the mainstream IRA. If the PSNI had not rammed the
van, he would be dead.
He told the Sunday World newspaper yesterday: "I'm convinced the
IRA were going to kill me. They told me so.
"It was the Provos. They told me they were taking me to the
border to torture and execute me.
"They told me I was going to be killed. That's why I fought for
so long. In the end they had to spray some sort of gas in my face
to take me down. It knocked me out. That's how they managed to
get me in the back of the van.
"I have never experienced fear like it in my life. Nothing could
prepare me for it. I didn't know what hit me."
Mr Tohill suffered head injuries which required 98 stitches to
his head at the Royal Victoria Hospital, but later released
himself from hospital and his whereabouts are unknown.
A former INLA political prisoner and a former member of the IRA,
Mr Tohill is a prominent dissident opposed to the peace process.
He recently denied involvement in the August 2003 murder of
father-of-six Danny McGurk, which was blamed on the dissident
In the High Court in Belfast today, Liam Rainey, Gerard McCrory,
Harry Fitzsimmons, and Thomas Tolan, all in their thirties from
west Belfast, were charged causing grievous bodily harm and
The court also heard they allegedly possessed disposable
clothing, pepper spray and metal cudgels when they were arrested
in the van.
All four men were remanded in custody until March 22 but their
lawyer indicated they would be applying for High Court bail.
On Saturday, PSNI police chief Hugh Orde insisted the men were
members of the Provisional IRA.
Mr Orde said: "We are very clear on this. I met with my senior
commanders last night, and I met them again this morning and I am
very clear that this was a PIRA operation."
Sinn Fein President Mr Adams said yesterday: "There have been
such claims about the IRA before. They have proven to be without
"But Hugh Orde's speedy allegation follows a pattern going back
to the old RUC which was also quick to point the finger at
republicans while turning a blind eye to others."
Marion Price, an activist on behalf of dissident republican
prisoners, called on Mr Adams to "come clean" about the incident.
She added: "I would like to hear what Mr Adams has to say about
one of his constituents being abducted and beaten.
"I know that Mr Tohill has been a lifelong republican, and is
opposed to the current Sinn Fein peace strategy.
"Mr Adams is very quick to condemn the activities of so-called
dissident republicans - I wonder will he condemn this."
The West Belfast MP did not refer to Mr Tohill, but called for
those arrested to be allowed their legal rights.
"What value the rights of those arrested? What chance that they
will receive a fair hearing?
"There has also been an unholy haste by a range of politicians
eager to seize upon Hugh Orde's statement and an eagerness by
sections of the media to repeat his allegation without question
or to embroider it. All of those involved need to catch
Mr Adams added that the threat to the peace process did not come
from republicans but from others "including those who have failed
or refuse to make politics work".
"Whatever the truth behind Friday night's incident Sinn Fein will
not be made a whipping boy especially by those who have no
interest in making this process work," he said.
"Our position is clear. Last October I reiterated our commitment
to democratic and peaceful politics. I also pointed to a peaceful
direction for all republicans to follow. That remains my position
and the endeavour and the focus of Sinn Fein."