9 September 2004 Edition
Torrens "ethnic cleansing" claim rubbished
Unionist claims of "ethnic cleansing" of Protestant families living in the Torrens area of North Belfast have been challenged. Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin O Broin said that claims of intimidation were completely unfounded.
"We are aware that a number of families had asked the Housing Executive to move them. We categorically deny allegations of a systematic campaign of intimidation or ethnic cleansing to force people out of their homes," said the city councillor.
"This interface like many in North Belfast has seen large volumes of violence over the last number of years, most of which was the work of the UDA. Nevertheless in the last 12 months this interface has been significantly quieter than in previous years," said O Broin.
"It's important to stress that over the last two years a large number of Catholic families have been forced out of Wyndham Street as a result of UDA violence and there continues to be a significant amount of fear in this community.
"Billy Hutchinson of the PUP, in making claims of intimidation, cites 1996. In 1996 unionist paramilitaries attacked the homes of a number of Catholic families who had moved into Torrens believing after the unionist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire it would be safe to do so. They were mistaken."
One night in July Catholic homes in Torrens were attacked by a unionist paramilitary mob who smashed their way in and threatened to kill Catholic residents. Families fled with just the clothes they stood in. One home was set on fire by the mob and the family lost all their belongings. Sectarian and abusive graffiti was daubed on doors. Catholic families who did not flee that night fled the next day after the unionist paramilitaries informed them they would be burnt out the following night.
"There is no record of anything like this ever being inflicted upon Protestant families in Torrens," said O Broin.
Meanwhile the home of a Catholic family in the Torrens area was attacked in the early hours of Saturday morning. Pauline Short, her husband and three children were all sleeping when the attack happened.
Around 4am two masked men armed with sticks smashed the family's front living room window. The attack took place in full view of the nearby PSNI barracks. The family had been threatened 24 hours earlier. A second house was also attacked and the car belonging to a Catholic resident was also attacked.
Evicted Catholic families from nearby Deerpark have commented on the news that re-housed Protestant families received monetary assistance from the Housing Executive to help them move. "No one minds people getting rehoused and financial help to move but the treatment of residents of Torrens Court stands in sharp contrast to the treatment of Catholic families in Deerpark," said a former resident.
This time last year dozens of Catholic families were forced to leave their Deerpark homes after unionist paramilitaries issued death threats and orchestrated a campaign of sectarian intimidation.
A woman who was forced to leave her Deerpark home last September said she and other families forced to flee had received no assistance from the Housing Executive. "When we left we had no where to go and were told to go into a hostel. In the end we slept on a friend's floor until we found somewhere else to live," she said.