24 May 2001 Edition
Loyalists step up sectarian attacks
With tension across the North rising in the run up to Westminster and local government elections and the marching season, loyalist activity is once again on the increase.
In a series of nightly attacks, Catholic homes in interface areas on the Lower Ormeau Road and in Ardoyne in North Belfast have come under attack.
To take just one example, in the past two weeks along the `peace line' at Cupar Way in West Belfast, loyalist gangs from the Shankill have carried out nightly attacks on the homes of residents in the vulnerable Bombay Street area.
Golf balls, rocks, stones and bottles have rained down on unsuspecting residents, and a blast bomb was thrown last weekend.
In the most serious attack, less than 100 yards along the `peace line' at Cupar Street, the Ashmore Hostel, a refuge for homeless families but housing mostly women and children, was attacked. After pelting the hostel for almost two hours, the loyalist gang prised open a wire grill protecting the window to the storeroom and torched the building. Luckily, the fire alarm sounded and those inside made good their escape.
Throughout this onslaught, the RUC ignored phone calls from residents for protection. The RUC's boss in West Belfast justified the RUC inaction saying there was a breakdown in communication between the two different divisions that cover the `peace line' area.
``It's just a well-worn excuse for inaction'', says Frances McAuley of the Springfield Residents Action Group.
Sinn Féin candidate and election workers attacked
BY LAURA FRIEL
A Sinn Féin candidate standing for a council seat in Newtownabbey narrowly escaped injury when loyalists armed with sticks and hatchets, travelling in three cars, attempted to run him down.
In the same constituency 24 hours later, a Sinn Féin election agent was repeatedly beaten on the back by a baton-wielding RUC officer after election workers putting up Sinn Féin posters were confronted by a 40-strong loyalist mob.
Kevin Vernon, one of three Sinn Féin candidates standing in the local government elections for Newtownabbey Council, was putting up election posters in Glengormley on Saturday afternoon when he was approached by a loyalist.
The man threatened Kevin and gestured with an imaginary gun pointing to his head. He said ``this is for you Kevin'', before walking away. Moments later, three cars carrying five men in each arrived at the scene. The loyalists, all aged in their 40s, were armed with sticks and hatchets.
One of the cars, a black Rover, mounted the pavement outside a busy shopping precinct and attempted to run down the Sinn Féin candidate. Kevin was hit on the leg by the vehicle, which he described as ``travelling at considerable speed'' before making his escape.
It was shortly after noon on Sunday when around a dozen Sinn Féin election workers returned to Glengormley to put up posters. At the junction between Hightown Road and Antrim Road, they were confronted by a handful of loyalists who shouted sectarian abuse.
A short time later the loyalists returned but this time their ranks had swelled to over 40. Sean Caughey, election agent for Martin Meehan, described the incident to An Phoblacht.
``The RUC arrived in full riot gear with their batons drawn,'' says Sean, ``but instead of confronting the loyalist mob, the RUC focused their attention on the handful of Sinn Féin election workers and candidates and began pushing us back.''
A number of senior republicans, including Martin Meehan and Assembly member Gerry Kelly, made repeated attempts to persuade the RUC to allow the election team to continue but the RUC blocked their way with Land Rovers.
``I was trying to keep everyone calm when an RUC officer standing behind me repeatedly jabbed his baton into my back,'' said Caughey. ``The RUC's aggressive manner made a bad situation ten times worse.''
After a tense standoff, Sinn Féin party officials withdrew. The following night the RUC watched but failed to intervene when around 40 loyalists tore down Sinn Féin election posters erected in the mainly Catholic Hightown Road area of Glengormley. A local resident said if the RUC allowed loyalists into a nationalist area to take down election posters, ``what can they not do?''
The attacks followed an inflammatory statement by NIUP candidate Norman Boyd, who labeled Sinn Fein's electoral presence as ``republican aggression''. During an interview with a local newspaper, Boyd called on unionists to ``stop Sinn Féin from corrupting the democratic process''.
The unionist candidate went on to claim that local people ``are living in fear'' because Sinn Féin had dared to stand candidates in their area''.
Meehan warned of death threats
Sinn Féin's Westminster candidate for South Antrim, Martin Meehan, has been told that his life has been threatened. Twice within an hour on Tuesday morning, the RUC arrived at Martin Meehan's North Belfast home and warned him that two specific death threats had been made against him.
``I was told that there had been two telephone calls, one from a female caller, threatening my life if I attempted to carry out my electioneering duties in Antrim,'' said Meehan. ``The RUC refuse to give me more details of the threat.''
Martin Meehan and his family have been the focus of a number of recent loyalist threats, including death threats. In one ten-day period at the beginning of this year, the Meehan family was targeted by loyalists seven times.
On 23 January, Martin Og, the Sinn Féin candidate's son, was warned by the RUC of an imminent loyalist attack. Eight hours later two bullets were fired into his home, one hitting the chimney breast and the other the front door.
A few days later another son, Kevin, was told by the RUC that his life was under serious threat. Four hours later there was a loyalist gun attack on his home. Four days later, the RUC arrived at Martin Meehan's home to warn that loyalists had threatened to assassinate him within 24 hours.
Loyalists later telephoned a warning claiming there were two explosive devices at the rear of Meehan's house. No devices were found but a handgun was discovered in the next door neighbour's back yard.
Enniskillen office vandalised
Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone candidate Michelle Gildernew has said that the vandalism of the Sinn Féin offices in Enniskillen and the local Bobby Sands memorial will not stop her election campaign.
``This is a throwback to 20 years ago when forces within Fermanagh\South Tyrone attempted, unsuccessfully, to intimidate and derail the campaign to have first Bobby Sands and then Owen Carron elected as MP's for the constituency,'' she said. ``There are reactionary forces at work here that are running scared of a Sinn Féin victory, a victory that is looking more likely with every passing day,'' said Gildernew.
Catholic critically injured
A Catholic man in his early 30s remains critical after a loyalist gang left him for dead in County Antrim. The sectarian attack took place outside the Park Hall Inn in the Steeples estate near Antrim town last Saturday night.
The injured man, who was born and reared in Antrim, now lives in England and was on holiday visiting friends. A witness to the attack has described how a member of the loyalist mob repeatedly stamped on the Catholic man's head as he lay stricken on the ground.
This is the latest in a series of sectarian attacks in the predominantly loyalist town. According to local nationalist residents Catholics socialising in Antrim town centre at weekends do so at their own peril. The threat of sectarian violence means that most local Catholics travel to and from their venue by taxi rather than risk even a short walk through the town.
Man escapes pipe bomb death
BY MAIREAD NÍ MHAOLCROAIBHE
A Catholic man in his twenties had a lucky escape when a loyalist pipe bomb exploded in the front room of his Lothair Avenue home on Wednesday night 16 May.
The bomb was hurled through the front window at around 11.40pm on Wednesday as Conor Doyle sat in the sitting room of his family home in Newington, North Belfast. He managed to escape with only seconds to spare as the device went off, causing damage to furniture and spraying scores of nails that were packed into the bomb across the room.
Conor's parents Julie Anne and Robert, his four brothers and sister were asleep upstairs when the pipe bomb exploded and although no one was injured, two of the Doyle children were treated in hospital for shock.
Robert Doyle, who said the family has been living in Lothair Avenue for 20 years and are regularly involved in cross-community trips, can think of no reason for the indiscriminate sectarian attack other than the fact they are a Catholic family.
``The explosion shook the house'', said Doyle, ``but thanks to our neighbours we managed to get all the children out unhurt. The younger children were terrified and they are still in shock, until yesterday we were just another ordinary family but now we are living in fear of this happening again.''
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said: ``Given the large numbers of attacks on Catholic people in this area in recent times, I am particularly angry that the NIO has not taken action to provide people with even the minimum levels of security needed to withstand attacks of this nature.
``This attack is a further reminder that the threat posed by loyalist murder gangs has not diminished.''
Video evidence of RUC collusion with car thieves
Sinn Féin representatives Paul Butler and Margaret McClenaghan are accusing the RUC of colluding with car thieves and they have the evidence to prove it.
Speaking to An Phoblacht, Butler, who sits on Lisburn Council, says that in a meeting with an investigator from the `Police' Ombudsman's office he and McClenaghan handed over video footage of the RUC letting car thieves go without arresting them.
In one incident in Ardoyne last year the RUC allowed a number of car thieves go free after they caught them in a stolen car in Jamaica Road. Within minutes, the thieves returned and crashed the vehicle into the back of a nearby house before torching it. At no time did the RUC attempt to arrest the thieves.
However a recent incident, on 22 April, in Lenadoon's Horn Drive, West Belfast, when the RUC allowed a car thief to go on his way unhindered, points to the probability that the thief was an RUC informer.
When the stolen car was stopped in Horn Drive after a chase, the RUC had one of the culprits in custody but during an exchange the youth was seen to make a phone call on a mobile phone. After the call the thief went, unhindered by the RUC, to the stolen car, took something from the passenger seat of the vehicle and walked off.
As the youth was being held by the RUC an unidentified man alighted from a car that was parked further along Horn Drive and walked up the street towards the incident; all the while this man was talking into a mobile phone. There is a suspicion this man was an undercover RUC member.
This incident was witnessed by a resident of Horn Drive. Speaking to An Phoblacht, the resident told of her willingness to be interviewed by the Omdudsman's office, but she wishes to keep her identity secret.
She explained that at about 2am on 22 April, after she heard sirens, she looked out the window and saw that two RUC Land Rovers and an unmarked car had trapped a stolen car near her home. As she watched the incident she saw that initially the RUC were giving the thief a ``hard time''.
The witness then said the thief pulled a mobile from his pocket and began talking. The next thing he was smoking along with the RUC members and they gathered around the unmarked car chatting. The resident recorded the incident on video. This tape was handed over to the `Police' Omdudsman's office last Wednesday, 16 May.
In a letter to the Ombudsman, Paul Butler accused the RUC of encouraging criminal activity and using young people caught up in petty crime as informers.
In a highly publicised statement made recently, the RUC boss in West Belfast, Brian McCargo, admitted that the RUC was using petty criminals as informers.
Loyalists target homeless hostel
BY LAURA FRIEL
As loyalist attacks on vulnerable nationalists escalate in the run up to the marching season, 14 families, including over 20 children, were lucky to escape with their lives after a loyalist arson attack on a homeless hostel.
The Ashmore hostel, which straddles the Lower Shankill and the nationalist Clonard area, offers temporary accommodation to homeless Catholic families, many of whom have been forced to abandon their homes after repeated sectarian attacks. The hostel has been repeatedly targeted by loyalists.
Staff and families were forced to flee for their lives on Monday night after the building was attacked by loyalists. The attack began shortly after 8pm on Monday night when a mob started pelting the building with bottles and bricks.
During the attack, a loyalist mob erected a ladder against the peace wall, of which the rear of the hostel is a part, prised off a grille on a second floor window and set fire to a storeroom. Earlier, the RUC had been alerted by residents at the hostel that they were under sectarian attack but they failed to respond.
Inside the building, the fire quickly took hold in the second floor room which was being used as a store room. To the right of the storeroom, just a couple of metres from the centre of the blaze, a number of families were sleeping.
A fire alarm alerted residents, many of whom were forced to flee in their night clothes and bare footed. On the second floor, where the fire was located, mothers carrying their children had to pass the blaze to get to a stairway to the lower floor. ``It was a miracle that no one died in that fire,'' said a member of staff.
Security measures at the hostel, which is frequently targeted by loyalist mobs, would have hampered escape had the residents not been alerted so swiftly. Metal grilles at every window and restricted exits have rendered the building a potential fire trap.
A deputy assistant divisional officer with the fire service who attended the fire said that an automatic fire alarm had saved residents from a ``potential tragedy''. The hostel suffered extensive smoke and water damage and the storeroom was gutted. A number of fire crews stayed late into the night dampening down the fire.
Outside, women and children stood in the street and expressed their anger at being forced out by a loyalist mob. ``The children are cold and we can't even get something for them to wear,'' said Margaret McCabe, a mother of six. ``All their clothes are soaking wet. It's a terrible sight.''
Frances McAuley of the Springfield Residents' Action Group said people staying at the hostel were subjected to almost nightly attack. ``The RUC are no help at all,'' she said.
Commenting on the attack, Lower Falls Sinn Féin's Fra McCann said the arson attack was clearly designed to kill. ``Unfortunately, the past number of weeks have seen an increase in loyalist attacks at interface areas throughout Belfast orchestrated by loyalists intent on raising tensions in the run up to the marching season,'' he said.
Derry SDLP councillor sent bullets
Derry SDLP councillor Annie Courtney received a hand delivered sympathy card containing two bullets on Saturday morning 19 May.
The card, with the handwritten message, ``with deepest sympathy, thinking about you at this time, see you soon'', was discovered by Courtney's husband stuck to their front door at 10am.
Courtney has been advised to take immediate security.