THE SSP were facing criticism last night after it emerged that one of their affiliated factions supports terrorist organisations opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, which has been affiliated to the party since 1999, backs left-wing groups that have been associated with violence across Ulster.

SRSM bosses regularly issue "solidarity" statements to the Irish Republican Socialist Party, whose military wing is thought to have murdered more than 100 people during the Troubles, including former Tory MP Airey Neave.

They also claim to be friendly with an IRA splinter group that opposes the "treacherous destruction of arms" and which criticises Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for being too moderate.

News of the relationship between the SSP and dissident outfits has led to calls for party leader Colin Fox to expel the SRSM, a faction that has already been kicked out of the SNP.

The row centres on statements on the SRSM's website endorsing groups that are against the Good Friday Agreement. One page describes the Republican Sinn Fein, a group which split from the Provisional movement in 1986, as "friends in Ireland".

But the RSF was last year named by the US State Department as a "foreign terrorist organisation", making it illegal for American citizens to support it and requiring US financial institutions to block its assets.

The hardliners oppose the peace process and refuse to negotiate with the British authorities unless a united Ireland is a precondition for talks. The group is also thought to be the political wing of the Continuity IRA, which Washington said was the "clandestine armed wing" of the RSF.

"[CIRA] has been active as a terror group since 1994 . . . it has carried out terrorist bombings and shootings, primarily in Belfast and the border areas of Northern Ireland." Another worry for Fox will be the SRSM's description of the IRSP as "comrades fighting for an Irish Socialist Republic".

The group's paramilitary wing, the INLA, is currently on ceasefire, but the guerrillas' most recent press release promised anyone using the INLA's name in the drugs trade would be "executed" - a threat posted on the IRSP's website.

The INLA gained notoriety in 1979 when it blew up the Tory Northern Ireland spokesman, Airey Neave, at Westminster. In 1982, it killed 17 people in the no-warning bombing of the Droppin' Well pub at Ballykelly.

One "solidarity statement" from the SRSM to the IRSP praised the latter's late leader Seamus Costello, while another recognised the organisation's "difficult struggle".

The SRSM comments are an embarrassment for the SSP, which has always shunned any link with terrorism. The republican group's extreme nationalism has worried party bosses and angered unionist members of the SSP. Recent moves by the SRSM include calling for an SSP boycott of the recent general election and for the party's stance on independence to be entrenched in its constitution.

An internal SSP discussion site was also shut down recently after it became a forum for bickering. John Patrick, the party's animal rights spokesman and SRSM member, called an SSP member a "British arsehole".

Last year, the SNP made the SRSM a banned organisation, and any Nationalist who fails to give up membership of the group faces being kicked out the party.

But Patrick told the Sunday Herald his organisation was free to speak to people with an interest in breaking up Britain. He said: "Our relationship is based on solidarity in trying to break up the British state. There is no direct political link between us and those organisations." Tory MSP Brian Monteith, whose friends Ian Gow and Edgar Graham were murdered by republican terrorists, said: "A complete, unequivocal disassociation with groups that support the rule of the gun in Ireland should be given by the SSP, along with the severance of any links with socialist factions that support these groups. Nothing less will suffice." An SSP spokesperson declined to support the ejection of the SRSM from the party:

"The SSP has thousands of members who embrace a range of views on Ireland. We're probably unique in Scottish politics in having invited on to our platforms members of organisations, from both sides of the divide in Ireland, which have at one time or another been labelled 'terrorist'."

paul. hutcheon@sundayherald. com