26 February 2004 Edition
Loyalist lip service as Catholic families are targeted
Over the past week, a 105-year-old grandmother and a four-month-old baby were among the targets of unionist paramilitaries operating in North Belfast, as loyalists embarked on yet another series of sectarian attacks directed at Catholics and their homes.
Seven homes were damaged when a unionist mob broke windows and lobbed paint and petrol bombs at houses on Clifton Park Avenue on last Wednesday 18 February. The attacks, which have been linked to the UDA, took place over a three-hour period.
Eileen Morgan was in the living room of her Clifton Park Avenue home around 10pm when a car pulled up outside and its occupants began hurling petrol bombs.
"I was in the living room with my youngest, when I heard screeching tires and a loud crash," says Morgan, "The next thing I knew there were balls of flame at the window."
Morgan is the mother of a four-month old baby and a one-year old daughter. She has lived in the house for only four weeks. After the attack on Wednesday last, she fled her home and now says she is unsure whether she will ever return.
The homes targeted are situated directly across the street from the massive Girdwood Army Barracks — which is outfitted with state-of-the-art surveillance cameras.
Angry Clifton Park families have called for more PSNI action and are questioning how the attacks could have taken place in full view of the British base without any preventative action being taken by the British Army.
Earlier that same evening, 105-year-old Jane Crudden was sleeping in the downstairs bedroom of her Cliftondene Gardens home in the Deerpark area of North Belfast when a loyalist gang arrived and began to attack houses there.
The bed-ridden pensioner was showered with glass after four bricks suddenly smashed through her front window. Badly shaken after the incident, she had to be moved to a temporary accommodation in a local nursing home by ambulance.
"She has been left very scared by this," says Crudden's daughter Jean, one of her eleven children. "It is absolutely terrible what's happened."
A neighbour of Crudden's, whose home was also targeted, says that the attacks have left her in total shock. "If this had been petrol bombs then I dread to think what could have happened. This is a mixed area and people get on well. It's not people from this area who did this."
Another neighbour, who is disabled, was also in bed when two paint bombs were thrown through the window of his home, destroying the living room.
Local residents reported hearing three gunshots before the unionist mob headed off into the nearby Glenbryn Estate. They have no doubt the attacks are part of a continuing campaign by unionists to drive Catholics from the area.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly agrees. "These incidents bear all the hallmarks of past assaults by unionist paramilitaries," says Kelly. "They mirror — almost exactly — attacks carried out by the UDA in the same area last year.
"They are clearly a very worrying development and I hope that this does not mark the commencement of another wave of sectarian attacks on Catholic homes in North Belfast by unionist groupings."
Over the past five years, there have been many sporadic attacks on homes in the Deerpark area, but in September last the sectarian violence suddenly escalated into a sustained campaign.
Glenbryn loyalists were behind a series of systematic attacks as the UDA began to focus on specific individuals and families in an effort to drive local Catholics from their homes.
One family, repeatedly targeted, was given six hours to pack their belongings and flee their Deerpark Road home. They were the third family from the neighbourhood to flee due to sectarian violence in the same week and the threat against them came only a day after yet another pipe bomb was found attached to the front gates of Holy Cross Girls Primary School on the Ardoyne Road.
Another Catholic family, who had been living in a house at the corner leading into the Glenbryn estate, endured over a dozen loyalist attacks in only eight months. Unionist thugs also mutilated the family's pet cat and left it outside their door to die. Although the family repeatedly telephoned the PSNI for help they were told officers were "too busy" to attend. Instead they suggested the family keep a rope upstairs in case the house was petrol bombed and they needed to escape the fire by climbing out a bedroom window.
Due to the violence of the continuing attacks and the PSNI's complete apathy, the family was eventually forced to abandon their home. Immediately after their departure, a further four Catholic homes on the street were targeted.
On several occasions mobs of masked men descended on the area, smashing windows and car windscreens, plastering walls with sectarian graffiti and threatening to return with petrol and pipe bombs to "finish the job."
The home of a mother and her 15-year-old autistic daughter was next on the UDA's list. In this instance too, the family's home had been attacked no less than 18 times in three months.
Their neighbours had been forced to leave the week before. And as that family loaded their belongings into a van, Catholic man Matthew Montgomery was hit in the face with a brick thrown from a passing car. His assailant shouted sectarian abuse before the vehicle disappeared.
All these incidents occurred well into the yearlong UDA "cessation of military activity".
So this week, while the UDA was busy making all the right noises about wishing "to develop relationships with the broader nationalist community based on mutual respect and equity", nationalists in interface areas were left under no illusions as to the real message being sent.
After sustained public pressure to back away from embarrassing racially-motivated attacks against visible minorities, the UDA has simply returned to doing what it has always done with impunity - targeting Catholic families.
And the PSNI, alongside its colleagues in the British Government, have returned to doing what they do to prevent sectarian attacks.