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2 September 1999 Edition

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Isolated Catholics bear brunt

Weekend of sectarian attacks in Larne



By Pádraig MacDabhaid

Writing in An Phoblacht shortly after the IRA announced its cessation of military activity on 20 July 1997, we stated that the test of the renewed peace process would be how isolated Catholic communities in towns such as Larne fared over the duration of the peace process. If we are to use areas like Larne, particularly over last weekend, as a gauge to measure the success of the peace process, then we can only conclude that the peace process, or more to the point unionist failure to hold up their end of the bargain, has failed Catholics in such isolated areas.

It is a well worn cliché that any political vacuum will be filled by violence. Throughout the peace process, unionist politicians have stalled at every turn, creating just such a political vacuum. For the duration of the peace process, Catholics have constantly been targeted by loyalist violence.

Now that the unionists have failed to implement the Good Friday Agreement as promised, we have witnessed an escalation of attacks in Larne and throughout the Six Counties.

The first attack of the weekend in Larne occurred in the early hours of Saturday, 28 August, when the home of East Antrim SDLP Assembly member Danny O'Connor was petrol bombed by loyalists. O'Connor has said that he believes the UDA, who claim to be on ceasefire, were behind the attack. O'Connor has also called into question the actions, or lack of action, of the RUC saying, ``it's the whole approach that sees uniformed police officers laughing and joking with people believed to be linked to loyalist groups in the area''.

The second attack was carried out in the early hours of Monday 30 August, when a pipe bomb was pushed through the letterbox of the home of Danny O'Connor's brother, Kevin. The 27-year-old was wakened by the blast, which caused serious damage to the hallway of his Craigyhill home.

In the third attack in the town, a Catholic family of six narrowly escaped death in their Sallagh Park home. This attack also occurred early on Monday 30 August, when a pipe bomb was thrown at the home. The couple and their four children aged 8, 12, 13 and 16 respectively, were present at the time but were unhurt. This is not the first act of intimidation carried out against that particular Catholic family. They were petrol bombed out of their last home in the predominantly loyalist Antiville area a year ago. More recently, a sympathy card and two petrol bombs were left on the window sill of the house that they have only occupied for the last three months.

Local Catholics are now claiming that things have gotten worse for them since the loyalist ceasefires were called.

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on policing, Assembly member Bairbre de Brún, said: ``The RUC attitude to these attacks has been predictable. They have ignored them and allowed them to continue. The RUC has shown through its attitude to the loyalist attacks and its own actions in intimidating nationalists in the town its complete inability to provide an impartial policing service. It must be replaced with a service that can provide impartial policing especially for vulnerable and isolated communities.''

Sectarian attacks over the weekend were not confined to the Larne area, however. In Ahoghill, St Mary's GAA hall was extensively damaged after an arson attack by loyalists around 3am on Sunday morning. This is the second such attack in two years.

The loyalists daubed the walls with loyalists slogans, one reading ``North Antrim UDA/UVF ceasefire over''. Earlier in the year, the North Antrim UVF were only too happy to show off new weapons they had bought and to boast about their growing number of recruits.

Not content with trying to intimidate Catholics out of their homes and destroying GAA clubs, Antrim loyalists also tried to destroy a Catholic chapel in Stoneyford, near Lisburn. A pipe bomb was discovered in the grounds of St. Peter the Rock Church at around 10pm on Sunday 29 August but was later made safe.

These latest loyalist attacks seem to mirror the stance taken by unionist politicians in another Antrim town, Bushmills.

Bushmills, now more famous for its UDA and UVF flags than its whiskey, has become a focus point for various groups after cars and buses of tourists were attacked for having 26-County registration plates. Unionists in this area, one of the last bastions of almost complete unionist control, appear to be doing all they can to cling to power, some even disagreeing that the promionently displayed UVF and UDA flags would stop tourists from coming to the area. Like their death squad friends, they are continuing to actively exclude Catholics in all walks of life while denying that any problem exists or, indeed, that they have created a problem.
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