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Pursuing Peace, and Prosperity
A $50 million bank robbery in December in downtown Belfast, which police blamed on the IRA, and the intimidation of witnesses by the IRA after members killed an innocent man, Robert McCartney, in a bar brawl in January added pressure for the group to scrap its weapons. "The war is over," McVeigh said, but quickly added, "The struggle is not."
Ian Paisley Jr., a member of Parliament from the Democratic Unionist Party headed by his aging, firebrand father, said he was skeptical about peace. His party and other loyalists have accused the British government of betraying their cause and naively taking the IRA at its word without any guarantees.
"There is no peace here," Paisley said in an interview in his office in predominantly Protestant East Belfast. "The words of the IRA can paper this room, but their actions have put people in graves."
McVeigh pointed out a concrete wall that cuts through West Belfast, separating thousands of Catholic republicans from thousands of Protestant loyalists. Coiste estimates that 6,000 former IRA prisoners live on McVeigh's side of the wall, with thousands of former loyalist prisoners resident on the other.
"Can we walk over to the other side for a look?" McVeigh is asked.
"Too dangerous," he said, "I wouldn't be safe over there."
He and other republican guides leave the tours at the wall where it divides the Catholic Falls Road side from the Protestant Shankill Road. They turn the visitors over to a loyalist guide who runs a similar tour, telling the story of the killing and pain on the opposite blocks.
Some analysts chalk up the recent outbreaks of trouble in Belfast to youth and alcohol, lingering spasms of mindless violence in a place accustomed to it. But others worry that it is premature to pronounce a lasting peace in a place where generations have grown up being taught to look down on, if not to hate, each other.
"We are still heavily divided despite the peace process," said McVeigh, who is an active member of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. "We are not ready to live side-by-side."