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17 May 2001 Edition

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Off the road, fenian bastards

BY LAURA FRIEL

A small boy stands quietly beside a buggy. Declan's eyes are solemn. The photographer gently coaxes him but there is no hope of a smile. The rain cover of his buggy is covered in flour and eggs. In another situation we might all be smiling but this is no laughing matter and the tears of the child's still shaking mother stand testimony to that.

Arlene McDonnell has sought refuge at Short Strand's community centre. She is being comforted by members of staff. Her hair is matted and her clothes are splattered. ``There were three of them, all men,'' says Arlene. ``They shouted sectarian abuse and pelted us with eggs and flour.''

``I've shopped on the Newtownards Road for 35 years,'' says Arlene's mother. ``They told us to Ôstay off the road' and called us Ôfenian bastards'.'' The two women ran with the child into a nearby shop. ``The shopkeeper, who is a Protestant, was very upset about what happened to us,'' says Arlene's mother. ``She went straight to the local PUP office to complain.''

Sharon and Cathy McMullen were walking to the post office along Albertbridge Road when they were attacked by six loyalists and pelted with flour and eggs. The mother and daughter ran into the post office, where other Catholics had already sought refuge. ``One of the men came into the post office after us,'' says 16-year-old Cathy, ``I thought we were going to be beaten. Everyone was huddled into the corner.''

Within an hour, reports of nine more attacks were received by the community centre. ``Just after 11am, we received a report that a woman and her two children from the Short Strand had been attacked while shopping by loyalists on the Newtownards Road,'' says local Sinn Féin representative Joe O'Donnell. ``The woman and her children had bricks, flour and eggs thrown at them.

``Each of the victims were told not to enter these areas again and were threatened with further violence. A 60-year-old woman has since been taken to hospital after collapsing.''

Tension in the nationalist Short Strand is running high. In the early hours of Sunday morning, over a hundred loyalists pelted Catholic homes and residents with stones, golf balls and petrol bombs.

``They started throwing stones around 4am,'' says one resident of Bryson Street. ``Every window in my house was smashed.'' The family's son, who is disabled, was in bed when a petrol bomb hit his bedroom window and ignited, scorching the window frame. The family spent the rest of the night in a back room.

``We pulled mattresses onto the floor but no one could sleep. The house smelt of petrol and we were afraid of the house being set alight.''

The family has lived here for 17 years and despite repeated sectarian attacks, they don't want to move. ``We sit with the lights off at night and the blinds open,'' says the householder. ``If anyone approaches the house, we're alerted straight away.''

Around 2am in the early hours of Monday morning, a gunman appeared from the loyalist Tower Street and fired four shots at nationalist residents who had gathered after stone throwing loyalists had attempted an incursion into the estate. The shooting took place in full view of the British Army and RUC, said local people, but no attempt was made to detain the gunman. The bullet casings were later removed from the scene by the RUC.

Joe O'Donnell said attacks in the area have been increasing over a number of months, including two attempted killings and a number of petrol and pipe bomb attacks and the situation wasn't being helped by inflammatory statements by some local unionist politicians.

Belfast Mayor and local DUP councillor Sammy Wilson accused republicans of ``stoking up trouble in the run up to the council elections''. The DUP councillor's comments were dismissed by local residents as ``utter nonsense''. Bernie McConnell from the Community Forum called for a cross community approach. ``People need to get around the table and take a good look at what's going on,'' she says.

Meanwhile nationalists living along the Springfield Road in West Belfast came under repeated attack by loyalists throwing petrol bombs and bombarding the area with bricks, stones and golf balls over the weekend. On Sunday night, two petrol bombs were thrown near Workman Avenue. Earlier, a pipe bomb exploded in the grounds of the local Catholic primary school.

It was 11.30pm when a man walking home was targeted by a loyalist gang travelling in a white car. The nationalist resident was attacked by the six-man gang, who attempted to immobilise him by wrapping a chain around his legs.

A second member of the gang, brandishing a long skewer, attempted to stab the man as he was dragged towards the car. When local people arrived at the scene, the gang abandoned their abduction attempt and drove off. Francis McAuley of the Springfield Residents' group described the incident as ``sinister'' and called on local people to be vigilant.

Lower Falls Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley said the attacks were ``wholly reminiscent of the pattern of sectarian assaults on the nationalist community of the Lower Springfield area last summer. ``There is no doubt in my mind that all these incidents were motivated by sectarianism and are in all likelihood the work of the UDA.'' Sinn Féin has made repeated calls for the peace wall to be heightened and gates at Workman's Avenue to be closed on a permanent basis, said the councillor. ``People should as a basic right feel safe in their own homes and community.''

Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan has condemned a petrol bomb attack on a family in Antrim on Monday night. The attack caused substantial damage to the house and left the family fearful for their lives.

In Portadown, a Catholic-owned pub in Woodhouse Street was attacked by a gang of up to 40 loyalists shortly after 7pm on Saturday night. The UVF mob arrived outside the bar armed with bar stools and chairs and attempted to smash their way into the premises.

Three young Catholic men, who had just left the pub, were also attacked by the mob. All three required hospital treatment.

According to local witnesses, loyalists chanted slogans about the killing of Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill while the most seriously injured man was being treated at the scene. The attack took place only yards away from where Hamill was fatally injured by a loyalist mob four years ago. All three victims were treated for serious head trauma. One required 18 staples for a head wound, another 15 staples and the third was treated for a suspected fractured scull.

A spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents said questions needed to be asked as to how a loyalist gang could carry out such an attack in the town centre in broad daylight without RUC intervention.

A blockade by loyalist supporters of the Orange Order, who blocked the lower part of the Garvaghy Road on Monday night, has been described as ``sheer intimidation''. Around 150 loyalists moved into the lower Garvaghy Road shortly after 10.30pm. Several cars were attacked.
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An Phoblacht
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