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Murder at Massereene

Mark Devenport | 11:58 UK time, Sunday, 8 March 2009

When I first received a text late last night to indicate that at least one soldier had been killed and others injured in Antrim, I responded by texting back "an attack?" During the troubles I would have probably assumed we were dealing with a deliberate killing. But in this era, naive as it might sound, a part of me wanted to keep open the possibility that there had been a bus crash or some such terrible accident. Within a short time I discovered the circumstances and the truth that the shadow of the gunman has returned.

Overnight and during the morning politicians have been responding to the murders. Phrases like "futile", "sinister" and evil" have been frequently used.

Around half past eleven this morning, nearly 14 hours after the killings, Sinn Fein released a carefully calibrated statement. Gerry Adams called the murders "wrong and counterproductive". He argued that dissident attacks must end and the people support peaceful and democratic change.

Speaking at the scene Peter Robinson offered his heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the families of the dead soldiers. Such a sentiment did not feature in the Sinn Fein statement. Perhaps Martin McGuinness or some other representative will fill in this gap as the day goes on. But the almost clinical style of the Sinn Fein initial position seems to reflect general republican antagonism towards the army (presumably this would have been different if the casualties had been PSNI officers) and the sensitivities of the recent row over the deployment of reconnaisance soldiers against the dissidents.

The Ulster Unionist Deputy Leader Danny Kennedy says his party "will be watching closely and evaluating the reactions of all political leaders and parties to this indefensible act". So far the only unionist to have pointed the finger at Sinn Fein has been the anti-power sharing MEP Jim Allister. The Traditional Unionist MEP asks to be spared "the crocodile tears of the Stormont political wing of the IRA", arguing that Sinn Fein's opposition to the deployment of the reconnaisance soldiers "tells us all we need to know about the bona fides of McGuinness and Co. when it comes to resisting terrorism".

Of course MrAllister is opposed to the Stormont system. He's not the only one. In Antrim Peter Robinson got a taste of the challenges to come when he was heckled by a solitary protestor who wanted to know where Martin McGuinness was and used the oft quoted line "if you lie down with dogs you'll get fleas". However Mr Robinson insists that he will not allow the dissidents to drag politics here back to the bad old days.

UPDATE AT 1300: Speaking on the Politics Show, Martin McGuinness has just specifically offered his condolences to the families of those killed and injured. Neither he nor the SDLP leader Mark Durkan backed away from their previous criticism of the use of special army units, although Mr Durkan made the point that this should be a test for al the local parties, not one, and Mr McGuinness added that the focus should be on the unity of the parties' responses against the murders.


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