September 24, 1994
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Gavin Smyth and several other teen-agers lie in a west Belfast hospital, their limbs slashed and shattered by the nail-spiked cudgels and iron bars of IRA men.
The Irish Republican Army has called a cease-fire against British forces, but in Roman Catholic neighborhoods, its punishment squads continue to bludgeon men and boys implicated in "antisocial behavior."
Activists who support those beaten or forced into exile want American officials to raise the issue with Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's allied Sinn Fein political party, who began a visit to the United States on Saturday.
"They think in America that the IRA only shoots at army and police, but look what they do to their own people,"
said Ann Smyth, 39, the mother of Gavin and five other boys.
"Their gangs are still beating up anyone they like. It makes a laughingstock of the cease-fire."
She had assumed the IRA truce announced Aug. 31 meant the end of the threat to Gavin, who faces trial next month for a car theft and crash last May that left a friend badly injured.
But on Thursday morning, three men forced their way into her home in Andersonstown. One pushed past her into her 16-year-old son's upstairs bedroom, ordered him to dress and shoved him out the front door.
They wouldn't say who they were, but locals and observers agree they were "the Rah," "the Provies" -- two common names for the Provisional IRA -- who have been doing such work all through the troubles and readily said so before the cease-fire.
"They were big bullies, dedicated hard men," Mrs. Smyth said, her voice shaking. "Of course they were IRA. No ordinary people would get on like that."
His abductors drove Gavin to a nearby parking lot and broke his legs open with iron bars. A man found him crawling along the gutter about half an hour later.
Doctors haven't determined the extent of his injuries because the swelling is too severe, his mother said. Others taken from their homes in the last week have had wrists broken, ankles shattered or legs gouged with nailed sticks.
The prospect of peace has revived the debate over who should police the IRA's bases in working-class Catholic neighborhoods.
Northern Ireland's mostly Protestant police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, now has its first opportunity to operate as a normal rather than anti-terrorist force. It already claims to solve one-third of reported crimes in Catholic west Belfast, but many go unreported.
Sinn Fein officials suggest that recent beatings could be the work of people not connected to the IRA, and say dealing with criminals is not part of the cease-fire anyway.
"Every society has to have a police force," said Francie Molloy, a senior Sinn Fein member.
"The RUC has always been a paramilitary armed force and it is unacceptable. But the community demands that something be done to known criminals. Who's taking action? Either the IRA or the community itself deals with it."
Sinn Fein and the IRA have a vested interest in maintaining their authority in the areas they dominate, said Malachy O'Doherty, a journalist with good connections in west Belfast.
He said the attacks are part of a campaign to discredit the police "and to restate with each cripple they make that the law is theirs and no one else's."
Families Against Intimidation and Terror, which has protested shootings and beatings by both the IRA and pro-British Protestant groups since 1990, sent faxes last week to members of the U.S. Congress.
"Gerry Adams has to come clean on this," said Henry Robinson, a campaigner for the group. "He has had his freedom of movement restored in America, but his friends in the Provisional IRA are denying freedom of movement to hundreds of people."
Robinson, 33, was once a member of the Official IRA, which moved from armed struggle to socialist politics in the 1980s but continues actions against Provisionals. Robinson was convicted in 1981 of shooting a "Provo" in the legs, but says he converted to nonviolence in prison.
"Certainly there's people who will support the mutilation of human beings -- I once did, regrettably -- but it's deeply offensive," he said.
"There's no trial, no right of appeal, just a kangaroo court."
Community workers say the continuing IRA beatings and expulsions come as no surprise.
"There's been exiles phoning us up from England asking,
'Is it your understanding we can come back home?'
All the signs suggest it's not on,"
said Joe Hamill of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which provides "safe houses" for those on the run from the IRA.
"As long as the cease-fire holds, we've seen the last kneecapping, but the war within republican communities against criminals goes on. The community demands it."
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