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23 March 2000 Edition

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``As near to murder as you can get''

BY LAURA FRIEL

A 10-month-old baby and her mother were treated in hospital after a loyalist petrol bomb attack on their home at Glenview cottages, just outside Glenarm near Larne. Shortly before 1.15am in the early hours of Sunday morning, 19 March, the device was thrown through a bedroom window. The window had been first smashed with a brick.

Twenty-year-old Francesca Feeney and her daughter Rebecca were sleeping in the bedroom at the time of the attack. Ronnie Hamilton ran into the room after hearing his partner's screams. His description of the scene was horrific. The bedroom curtains, back wall and bed were already alight.

Moments earlier Francesca had dragged herself and the child from their flame engulfed bed. The hair of both mother and daughter was on fire. They were both treated in hospital for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Francesca believes her family was targeted because she is Catholic and her partner Protestant. This is the third time the family have been attacked.

Local people described the area as quiet, rural and remote. ``We're in the heart of the country and whoever did this would have had to go out of their way to get here.'' DUP deputy mayor of Larne Rachel Rea said the attack was ``as near to murder as you can get''. She described community relations as good and said their had been no prior history of sectarianism in the area.

Carnalbanagh is less than six miles away from Glenarm. Last year Richard Hastings, a loyalist from Glenarm, was acquitted at Belfast High Court after he lost his right hand when a pipe bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely. Judge Philpott accepted Hastings' story that he had been intimidated by loyalists who told him to throw the pipe bomb at the home of his Catholic neighbour.

Francesca Feeney has said it is unlikely that her family will return to their home outside Glenarm. ``We were nearly burnt alive,'' she said.

 

``Keeping an open mind''


BY LAURA FRIEL

``I heard Francesca screaming. I opened the door and the place was alight. The curtains, back wall and the bed were all on fire.''

``Rebecca and me were both on fire. I didn't know what was happening but I knew I had to lift my daughter. I couldn't open my eyes. There were just big balls of fire coming up in my face.''

These are the words of Ronnie Hamilton and Francesca Feeney, respectively, describing a sectarian loyalist attack in which a petrol bomb was thrown through their bedroom window on Sunday night. Francesca and the couple's ten-month-old baby, Rebecca, were sleeping in the bed, which ignited during the attack.

The brick used by the gang to smash through the double glazed bedroom window hit the sleeping child on the head. The petrol bomb which followed was close enough to set both Rebecca's and her mother's hair alight.

A slight difference in the bomb's trajectory and Ronnie Hamilton would have lost his family as well as his home. As it was, his swift action saved both Francesca and Rebecca from more serious injury. But no one could save the family from the trauma of their ordeal.

``I can't go back in that house. I'm scared to close my eyes in case of what happens. I'm never going back inside that house again. I just couldn't.'' Francesca believes her family has been targeted by loyalists because she is Catholic living with a Protestant partner. ``Just because we are different religions they want to kill the baby,'' wept Francesca. This is the third time this family's Glenarm home has been targeted by loyalists.

Yet 48 hours after the attack, the RUC were still ``keeping an open mind'' and ``unable to identify a motive for the attack''. As the evidence of the sectarian nature of the attack mounted in the local media, the RUC reluctantly conceded that a sectarian motive ``had not been ruled out''. But by now it was three days later and the incident already old news. Too old to attract any international coverage anyway.

The RUC often play a decisive role in the manipulation of the media's response to a particular incident. By deliberately distorting the detail of a particular killing, RUC spin doctors manipulate the perception of the conflict in the North of Ireland to suit a pro-British agenda - a model in which two warring tribes engage in reciprocal ``tit for tat'' violence contained only by the ``neutral'' forces of the Crown.

Of course, the facts don't fit the fiction. Over the last 30 years, twice as many Catholics as Protestants have been killed as a result of the conflict. Tens of thousands of Catholics have survived sectarian attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have endured sectarian abuse and sectarian discrimination.

Although individual Catholics can be sectarian, the experience of sectarianism within the Six-County state has been far from reciprocal. Sectarian violence is a weapon used almost exclusively by loyalists against nationalists. Sectarian discrimination ensures unionist privilege.

A sectarian state maintains British domination. No wonder state forces like the RUC often play a pivotal role in obscuring the truth by creating a perception of sectarianism as a kind of Capulet and Montague `plague on both your houses' phenomenon.

In RUC press releases, sectarian attacks against Catholics are routinely underplayed. The RUC delay identifying an attack against a Catholic family as sectarian. The extent and nature of loyalist violence is often fudged. If the victim is a Protestant killed by loyalists in the mistaken belief that their target was a Catholic, it is often reported simply as sectarian and people are left to draw their own conclusions.

Commenting on the loyalist attack on her family, Francesca Feeney concluded: ``I don't know how anybody could be so sick.''

But of course it's not sickness. It's not mindless nor motiveless. It's anti Catholic sectarianism. It's anti-Irish racism. And there was plenty of that about last weekend. From the unionist-controlled Belfast City Council, which denied funding to a St. Patrick's Day Carnival parade into the city centre, to the loyalist confrontation of an AOH parade in Kilkeel, to the travesty of the members of Corcrain Orange Hall ``reclaiming'' St Patrick as an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish icon - ``They say he's patron saint of Ireland. That's not what we say. We're not Irish. No way.''

In 1998, after the sectarian killings of the Quinn children in Ballymoney, BBC television reporter Denis Murray described the killings as `racist'. This well-seasoned journalist, who I had watched on TV reporting hundreds of sectarian attacks and killings over many years, broke with the usual delivery and was visibly struck with grief and horror at the Quinns' brutal deaths.

For a moment, Murray understood what sectarianism equates within the northern nationalist community. For a moment, we were all talking the same language.

 

Sectarian attacks in North Belfast



by Laura Friel

Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly has called on loyalist politicians to intervene and ensure that nationalist residents in the Longlands area of North Belfast can live without fear of sectarian intimidation.

``The Longlands area is now experiencing a huge upsurge in sectarian attacks against nationalist residents. Nationalist residents in Longlands Court are being subjected to a nightly barrage of bricks and petrol bombs,'' said Kelly.

In the last 30 years North Belfast has endured some of the worst sectarian violence in the Six counties. Despite the current peace process, sectarian attacks have continued unabated. Over the past year there has been a decimation of the nationalist community in the Graymount area with around 80 catholic families being forced to flee the area by loyalists. The UDA are now setting their sights on the nearby Longlands area.

``It would appear that the UDA are attempting to ethnically cleanse large sections of North Belfast one step at a time. In the months before the upsurge in loyalist attacks we received numerous reports of UDA representatives issuing death threats against Catholic owned businesses and taxi drivers in Longlands in particular and North Belfast in general,'' said Kelly.

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