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21 September 2000 Edition

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Violence on the Shankill

BY LAURA FRIEL

``I shot your son - four in the back of the head. I shot him. I'm proud of it.'' These are the words of a UDA killer, taunting the family of his victim. In 1996, two men from the Shankill area were convicted of the murder of 20-year-old Belfast Catholic Sean Monaghan. A third man from the same area was jailed for 16 years for abducting Sean and another Shankill man was jailed for three and a half years after lying to protect the killers.

Bound and gagged, Sean Monaghan's body was discovered in the early hours of 14 August 1994. He had been shot four times in the head at close range and it was some hours before he was identified as a young man from Albert Street off the Falls. The details of his ordeal only emerged during the trial of his attackers.

Abducted near Divis Street, Sean was first taken to a flat in Disraeli Street off the Shankill but managed to escape through a window. He sought refuge in a nearby house, the home of a pensioner who had just returned home after a church meeting.

The pensioner telephoned her daughter, who came to the house with her boyfriend. The couple told Sean they would take him back to their home in Bray Court. The daughter claimed he could escape by climbing over the back wall into Ardoyne.

A 32-year-old man from the Shankill told Sean that he would get him a taxi to allow him to escape but instead he handed the young Catholic father of two back to a UDA man from the area and others who later shot him.

Subsequently, about 20 people were questioned about the killing, including a 67-year-old mother of a disabled child. A bail court heard that the pensioner who lived in the home in which the victim had sought refuge had ``sat in Castlereagh for two days with a Bible in her hand, denying Monaghan was ever in her house''.

Despite being relatively recent, the sectarian killing of Sean Monaghan does not evoke the same memories of fear and loathing within Belfast's nationalist communities as the earlier sensational atrocities of the UVF's `Shankill Butchers'. This particular UVF gang's reign of sectarian terror lasted for almost a decade and became notorious because of the gruesome nature of the killings carried out.

And yet it is perhaps Sean Monaghan's story that most clearly exposes the way in which loyalist violence has poisoned the fabric of life in the Shankill community. It is against this backdrop that Northern nationalists will be judging the current bloody feud between the UVF and UDA on the Shankill.

And it is not surprising that a popular figure to emerge on the Shankill has been Johnny Adair. The popular appeal of his brand of sectarian thuggery sufficiently upset the balance of power on the Shankill to plunge the area into bitter feuding.

The ruthless manner in which organised loyalism has now turned its violence in on itself holds no surprises for nationalists. They've been terrorising us for years. For many nationalists, the loyalist feud has evoked a curious déja vu. The media has been full of the familiar images of loyalist attacks and intimidation.

Over 180 families living on the Shankill have been forced to flee from their homes. One woman resident was reported as saying, ``words can't describe what it's like to be driven from your home''. There have been pipe bomb attacks on local politicians and spokespersons and attacks on taxi depots, pubs and a prisoners' centre - all favoured targets by loyalists when they're laying siege to the nationalist community rather than their own

There have been hatchet attacks, knife attacks, attacks with baseball bats and pickaxe handles. There have been petrol bomb, pipe bomb, nail bomb and grenade attacks. Shots have been fired and three people have died. Many more have been injured and even more are living in fear.

But while al this has a kind of Lewis Carol `through the looking glass' familiarity, there have also been some bizarre anomalies. After an attack on a taxi depot, black taxi drivers from the Shankill took refuge on the Falls Road. A loyalist family, whose UVF flag flying from their home enraged their UDA neighbours, fled to Dublin.

Last week, around 400 women from the Shankill marched behind a banner demanding an end to the loyalist feud. ``We want peace,'' their banner proclaimed. May Blood, a Shankill community worker recently honoured by the British monarchy, described the community's frustration. ``We have pleaded to their good sense but it hasn't made a blind bit of difference,'' she said.
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