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Two Men on the Run from Guerrilla Justice

September 2, 1991

NEWRY, Northern Ireland (AP) _ David Madigan and Liam Kearns are defying IRA justice, taking their chances on the run after 11 tempestuous days sheltering in a cathedral.

They left Tuesday night after the Roman Catholic Church said their supporters no longer could use the church as headquarters for their campaign to bring pressure on the guerrillas.

Madigan’s father, Edward, said last week that he knew his son was somewhere in Ireland - north or south - because the fugitives said so in a telephone call to a Belfast radio station.

″It’s better not to know in case they come and pressurize us,″ he said. He was interviewed at the family home in the Drumalane housing project, where Irish republic tricolors flap overhead and the trouble began.

The Irish Republican Army says Madigan, 19, and Kearns, 23, are hoodlums who intimidated their neighbors for years.

It threatened ″military action″ if they and four others were not out of Ireland by Aug. 17, but was not more specific in a statement. IRA punishments include a bullet through the leg, a broken limb, even death.

Three of the others left the island and the fourth was reprieved, but Madigan and Kearns publicly defied the IRA.

Supporters of Madigan and Kearns say the IRA acted only after a member of Sinn Fein, its legal political wing, was badly beaten in his bed.

″Why didn’t they take action before?″ a man in the neighborhood asked - afraid, like most, to give his name. ″They moved in to protect their own. ... The myth of defending the people, I don’t buy it.″

Newry, an old port just inside Northern Ireland on the main Dublin-Belfast highway, has seen plenty of violence during 22 years of sectarian and political violence.

Madigan and Kearns gave a familiar story a twist by seeking sanctuary in the grey stone cathedral of St. Patrick and Colman.

An editorial in The Irish News, a daily aimed at the British province’s Catholic minority, said:

″The only tangible result of their protest has been to embroil the Catholic Church in a seedy and vicious row between conflicting political groups which are all trying to exploit the church for their own ends.″

Churchgoers complained about the media circus. There were suspicions the church was being used by the Families Against Terror and Intimidation, a Belfast group that supported Madigan and Kearns.

Jokes about the ″oldest altar boys in town″ made the rounds of Newry pubs.

″While many parishioners don’t support the IRA, there was a gut feeling that their motives were not always innocent, that their motives weren’t purely for protection,″ said the Rev. Gerard Green, a member of the cathedral staff.

Jeff Maxwell of Families Against Terror and Intimidation insisted ″sanctuary wasn’t a gimmick ... It was the only place they felt confident their lives were secure.″

Brendan Curran, a Sinn Fein member of the district council, said the IRA had been lenient.

″It would have been quite easy for the IRA to shoot them and be finished with it,″ he said, ″but putting people out is an alternative to violence.″ Compromise is not possible now, Curran said, coaxing a warm bottle into the mouth of his 6-month-old daughter. ″It’s like the Mounties. The IRA always gets its man.″

Police have not been involved. The Royal Ulster Constabulary has said in the past it is wary of responding to calls in ″republican″ areas because of the danger of ambush.

″People are afraid to go to the police because they’ll be seen as informers,″ said Pat McElroy, a district councilor for the Social Democratic and Labor Party, the largest Catholic party in Northern Ireland.

″It would appear that the IRA has won maybe on first impression, but the losers are the people who crave law and order and justice.″


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