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27 April 2006 Edition

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Orange marches: Stabbings, shootings and threats

BY LAURA FRIEL

Attacks as marching season gets underway

A nationalist family forced to flee in Derry and a gang knife attack in Ballymena are the most serious of a spate of sectarian incidents reported as this year's Orange marching season gets underway.

Parades by the Apprentice Boys last week marked the beginning of the annual unionist marching season. Throughout the summer members of the Loyal Orders hold over 3,000 parades peaking in July with Orangemen marching throughout the Six Counties on the Twelfth.

Marching continues into August with the Apprentice Boys Six County wide Siege of Derry demonstration and on towards the Burning of Lundy in December.

The relative quiet of recent months has led many nationalists to hope that this year's mass mobilisation of Orangemen would not be accompanied by the usual upsurge of sectarian attacks. But within days of the first Apprentice Boys marches a number of such attacks have been reported.

Derry family forced to flee

A nationalist family living in the predominantly unionist Waterside area of Derry were intimidated out of the area following a gun attack on their home last week. Seán and Patricia Grimes and two children had lived in their Clooney home for over 20 years.

The house was attacked while the family were sleeping. A number of shots were fired in the attack, smashing all four windows. It's not the first time the family has been targeted. "It's because we are Catholics," Seán told the media. "It's a form of ethnic cleansing. Countless Catholic families have been forced to move out of this area. Four or five families have left the estate in recent months."

Another nationalist woman living in the Waterside said she fears for her children's safety in the wake of loyalist attacks. The woman who wishes to remain anonymous said over the past week her family has been persecuted by loyalists who have daubed sectarian graffiti on the wall of her Ebrington Street home, smashed up her partner's car and broke a number of downstairs windows. The woman fears for her children who are being exposed to blatant sectarianism by loyalists who painted "UDA- Fenians Out" on a wall outside her home and wrote off her partner's car which was parked outside on Easter Monday night.

"Last Monday was bad enough but they came back on Friday night and smashed the downstairs windows and tried to kick the front door in before damaging my own car", she said.

Knife attack

Meanwhile, last Saturday afternoon Kirk McCaughern was in the Tower Centre in Ballymena having travelled there with his two brothers to order suits for a forthcoming family wedding. He was stabbed shortly after he overheard someone in a gang of about 20 youths identify him as a Catholic and found himself surrounded.

He didn't immediately realise he had been stabbed. "I felt funny when I was in the middle of the crowd and wanted to get away. I was walking away and saw the blood and asked, Where's the blood coming from? and my brother told me I'd been stabbed in the back", he said.

Kirk spent five days in hospital recovering from a torn liver and a punctured lung. Medical staff told him the knife had passed within an inch of his heart.

Local Sinn Féin councillor, Monica Digney said she had been contacted by several witnesses to the attack who had seen members of the gang responsible taking part in an Apprentice Boys Parade in Ballymena two days later.

Around 2,000 unionists paraded through the north of Ballymena town on Monday afternoon, passing nationalist residents at the bottom of Market Road.

"I had a number of complaints from local people about members of the gang involved in the stabbing provocatively dancing past nationalist residents," said Monica. The PSNI appeared to be turning a blind eye to their antics.

North Antrim councillor Daithí McKay described the parade as "awash with unionist paramilitary paraphernalia". Thirteen bands were carrying unionist paramilitary flags and many others played sectarian tunes, such as The Sash continuously as they passed Catholic houses and All Saints Catholic church.

"One band even had a full bannerette dedicated to a convicted sectarian killer, Noel Kinner a member of the UVF. Clearly the DUP excuse that these bands are referring to the UVF of 1916 does not hold any credibility," saidMcKay.

Councillor threatened

Earlier in the week Monica Digney had been threatened on the floor of the Council Chamber by a member of the public. The Sinn Féin councillor said Ballymena Council had serious questions to answer after what she described as a frightening incident. The councillor was told, "We know where you are".

"No one should be threatened because of their political or religious background. This was a frightening and disturbing incident," she said.

"It was no coincidence that councils where unionists refuse to accept power sharing and equality are found in areas where sectarian violence continues to be directed at nationalists and republicans."

Footballers forced out

Two professional football players, forced to flee from Derry following death threats, were unclear if the attack was racist or sectarian. Bertrand Ketchanke from France and George Ngoma from Belgium were both signed by Derry Club Institute last September.

A campaign of threatening telephone calls came to a head when three men brandishing baseball bats arrived at their home in the predominantly unionist Waterside area shortly before 1am last Saturday. "They told us to go or we would be shot," said Ketchanke.

The footballers said they had been living in fear for a number of weeks and, too afraid to leave their home, had been relying on friends to do their shopping. Their attackers had asked the two men if they were Protestant or Catholic.

Short Strand

Meanwhile residents in the nationalist Short Strand enclave of East Belfast have reported increasing stone and missile attacks on their homes. Snooker balls, marbles, rocks and other missiles have been fired over a peace wall at homes in the Clandeboye area. The area came under sustained unionist paramilitary attack for months during the summer of 2002.

Margaret McDowell, whose home on Clandeboye Drive backs onto the peace wall, said she had been unable to sleep following a recent upsurge in the number of attacks. Some of the missiles have been daubed with sectarian slogans such as "No Pope Here" and "Always Orange".

"We usually get trouble in the summer or when there is an Orange march," said Margaret.

Against this backdrop it has been revealed that the Orange Order has applied for thousands of pounds of community relations funding for their parades this summer.

Nine Orange Lodges have applied to the NI Events Company for almost £142,000 of grant-aid to stage their 12 July parades. If successful, the Order would accrue almost a third of the entire Community Festival budget.

Rioting by Orangemen following the rerouting of a parade in West Belfast last year cost the tax-payer more than £3 million

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