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29 May 2003 Edition

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Vicious attacks on Catholics in Ballymena

Two Catholic men are lucky to alive after a loyalist gang attacked them in the Mount Street area of Ballymena, County Antrim on Sunday night last.

The two men suffering broken bones and severe bruising after they were set upon by the loyalists, who were seen cruising the Mount Street\Broughshane Street area of Ballymena in a white transit van looking for targets.

According to local people the transit van was involved in a series of incidents leading up to the attack on the two men. The loyalists had already tried to abduct a Catholic man as he walked in the area with his wife and child earlier that night, but he managed to fight them off.

Sinn Féin North Antrim spokesperson Philip McGuigan slammed the PSNI, who he accused of not taking the threat to Catholics seriously. "The man targeted in the first incident phoned the PSNI and reported the incident but was told that because he wasn't actually assaulted they could do nothing about it and within hours the same gang almost killed two men," he said.

"It's about time the PSNI took attacks on nationalist in Ballymena seriously. Catholics have to be almost killed before the PSNI will take any notice."

McGuigan added: "There is a loyalist element within Ballymena who are determined to raise tensions to boiling point and to instil fear into the Catholic community.

"These sectarian attacks are growing in frequency and brutality. People need to urge restraint, particularly coming into the summer months and the marching season to ensure no more people end up in hospital or worse".

Meanwhile, six men who were arrested and questioned in relation to the attack on the two men in Mount Street were released on bail pending further PSNI inquiries.

McGuigan says the PSNI is involved in a sustained campaign of harassment directed at republicans and nationalists in Ballymena.
McGuigan explained that over the past few weeks he has been told by parents of children in the town that the PSNI have been "harassing local children for wearing GAA and Celtic shirts".

Sinn Féin has criticised the Parades Commission for allowing a loyalist parade to march in William Street in Ballymena on Saturday night 24 May.
"People are worried for their safety, as William Street is the only place in Ballymena where young Catholics can socialise at the weekends, and here we have a loyalist parade marching up this street when it can easily go straight down the town and avoid any potential trouble," said Philip McGuigan.

He is calling on the Parades Commission to reroute any parades away from the William Street to avoid the area turning into a flashpoint for sectarian trouble.



Meehan slams loyalist excuses



A loyalist gang wielding hammers shouted threatening sectarian abuse at Catholic school children as they left St Malachy's High School on the Birch Hill Road in Antrim town on Wednesday 21 May.

Among the loyalist gang was a woman with two Doberman Pinscher dogs.

According to Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan, "schoolchildren had to run a gauntlet of sectarian chants and barking Doberman dogs and as events unfolded, members of the PSNI stood by watching".

Meehan told An Phoblacht that the reemergence of this daily scenario of loyalists gathering in a threatening manner and abusing Catholic schoolchildren could lead to the closure of the school.

"Enrolment at St Malachy's has dramatically decreased since loyalists began attacking and shouting sectarian abuse at the children over the last year or so. Parents in Antrim just want their children to be allowed to attend school without having to endure sectarian attacks directed at them by mobs led by unionist paramilitaries."

Meehan reiterated his call for all political, church and community leaders to come to St Malachy's school and see for themselves the daily sectarian ordeal inflicted on Catholic schoolchildren.



Nationalists warned to step up security



North Belfast nationalists have been warned to be extra vigilant after three well known unionist paramilitaries were seen driving around the Ardoyne area.

The warning comes after Sinn Féin activists in the area received death threats from the UDA.

Sinn Féin councillor Margaret McClenaghan said every Sinn Féin councillor in North Belfast has received at least two death threats from unionist paramilitaries over the last year.

"We have to know how we are going to instil normality in this area during the summer months when loyalists are intent on raising sectarian tensions by issuing these threats," she said, calling on people to be extra vigilant in the coming weeks.



Oldpark PSNI beat their way to top spot



A Police Ombudsman's report has installed Oldpark-based PSNI members at the top of the league when it comes to batoning civilians.

The report shows PSNI members based at Oldpark barracks are more likely to hit civilians with batons than any other PSNI unit throughout the Six Counties. The report also found that complaints against the PSNI were considerably higher than police forces in Scotland or Wales.

The Police Ombudsman's report stated that there were 419 complaints about baton use between November 2000 and March 2002, of which 91% of complainants were male and just under half of known complainants lived in Belfast.

Sinn Féin councillor for Oldpark, Eoin Ó Broin, says the figures come as no shock to people living close to Oldpark barracks and who have first hand experiences of the brutality meted out by members of the local PSNI.

"It's another argument in favour of the full implementation of the Patten report and it strengthens the need for the PSNI to decommission their stockpiles of plastic bullets," he said. The councillor added that members of the PSNI are required to fill out forms every time they use their batons but their commanders aren't required to keep them.

Meanwhile it has also emerged that of the 8,500 complaints received by the Police Ombudsman's Office against the PSNI, only 60 PSNI members have been recommended for disciplinary proceedings.

Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, told An Phoblacht: "There is a serious cause for concern when over 8,000 complaints against members of the PSNI are made in the space of three years.

"When complaints do not result in disciplinary actions against members of the PSNI, then there must be full transparency and adequate explanations given to those who lodged the complaints."



Evidence not ready in Stormont raids case



Fingerprint evidence against two men charged in connection with Special Branch raids on Sinn Féin offices at Stormont and homes throughout Belfast has still not been completed, almost eight months after four people were charged in one of the Six Counties¥' highest profile cases, Belfast Magistrate Court has been told.

During a remand hearing in the case against Belfast men Dennis Donaldson and Ciaran Kearney on Friday 23 May, a PSNI member told the court that the analysis of forensic and fingerprint evidence has still not been completed, despite the fact that PSNI files in respect of the two men were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions on 17 April.

The PSNI member told the court that "fingerprint, biology, DNA and swab evidence is not yet complete because resources had to be diverted to deal with the loyalist feud".

The PSNI member said he expected all the loose ends to be tied up for June.

Human rights observers have been critical of the PSNI in this case, as on two previous occasions, members refused to appear for cross examination. Indeed, the courts issued two Magistrate's orders requiring the PSNI member in charge of the investigation to attend in court.

Human rights activists and a senior Irish government official were present as observers to the court proceedings.


Sinn Féin unrepentant after Omagh protest



Sinn Féin has hit back at SDLP complaints after protesters disrupted the first public meeting of the Omagh Town's District Policing Partnership (DPP).

The meeting at the council offices on Wednesday night 21 May was abandoned after 80 vocal placard-waving Sinn Féin members entered the chamber and drowned out speakers.

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty, speaking to An Phoblacht, said there is a lot of anger on the ground around the issue of policing and the Stevens' report, which highlights the collusion between the RUC and unionist death squads.

"People have the right to protest," he said. "We are highlighting the fact that a proper police force has not been achieved and the policing issue has not been resolved. People feel the PSNI are the RUC in another guise."
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