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25 September 1997 Edition

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Portadown children under attack

By Laura Friel
A sectarian campaign of verbal and physical abuse, is how independent nationalist councillors' Breandan Mac Cionnaith and Joe Duffy have described ongoing attacks on Catholic schoolchildren by loyalists in Portadown. "Victimisation and harrassment of young Catholics in Portadown is not new," said Councillor Mac Cionnaith, "but it has clearly increased in recent weeks."

With the beginning of the new school year, pupils attending Catholic schools in the Portadown area have been subjected to widespread sectarian abuse. "Almost all of these incidents have occurred in and around the town centre as pupils are making their way to and from school in the mornings and afternoons." The children are easily identified as Catholics by their school uniform. "Sectarian harassment has reached such heights that staff from the local high school are currently transporting pupils to and from school in their own cars," said Mac Cionnaith.

Councillor Joe Duffy said a disturbing feature of these sectarian attacks has been "the reluctance of the RUC to intervene." He continued: "The apparent unwillingness and inability of the RUC to take effective action in order to prevent this situation is in stark contrast to the campaign of harassment which members of that same force have been waging against young Catholic people in Portadown over a period of many months."

The Department of Education and the Southern Education and Library Board have been contacted, said Duffy. "Not only do these bodies have a duty to provide a safe and secure environment for all pupils in their place of education, they also have a strong moral obligation to ensure the safety and security of children when they are travelling to and from school," concluded Duffy.

The upsurge in sectarian intimidation of Catholic schoolchildren in Portadown comes against a backdrop of increased harassment of nationalists by both loyalist gangs and the RUC. Last April, Robert Hamill, a young Catholic man, was beaten to death by a loyalist mob within ten metres of a RUC patrol. Since Robert's death, loyalist gangs continue to gather each weekend in exactly the same place. RUC officers are often seen talking and laughing with the loyalist crowd as Catholics leave a bar on Woodhouse Street.

Gangs of loyalists have also been gathering at the bottom of Garvaghy Road. According to local residents, as cars slow down to turn onto Park Road, they are scrutinized by gangs of between ten and twenty loyalist men and women. If the occupants are recognised as Catholics, they are targeted with bottles and missiles fired from catapults. Surrounding streets and a park are often 'patrolled' by loyalists wielding wooden clubs.

When a well-known loyalist produced T-shirts with the LVF slogan "Yabba Dabba Do - Any Fenian will do", and they were openly sold in the Portadown market, RUC officers were often seen chatting with the stall holder.
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