26 July 2001 Edition
Gun attack on community centre
Loyalist violence against the nationalist community escalated in the last week with a gun attack on the Ashton Centre in the New Lodge Road area of North Belfast on Friday 20 July.
In addition to that attack, there were at least ten pipe bomb attacks on Catholic homes throughout the North.
At the Ashton Centre, which houses numerous community development groups and a children's playgroup, two loyalist gunmen opened fire on two community development workers, firing at least eight shots.
As the workers ran inside the centre for cover, the gunmen fired recklessly into the building, where a children's summer scheme was in progress. Although no one was injured, five people, including a child's parent who collapsed, were treated for shock.
According to one of the two workers who came under fire, he and his workmate had gone into the yard at the back of the building when they noticed the would be killers checking the units which house local small businesses. Luckily on the day in question, these were all closed.
The man said that the gunmen then noticed him and his friend and came at them firing as they ran for their lives. According to the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, the loyalists were intent on killing the first person they came across. ``When they realised no one was in the work units, they looked around and spotted us as we stood outside having a smoke. We were a bit wary of them and when we saw the gun we ran inside but they just opened fire anyway. The creche with children in it is in the next room.''
The loyalists used a Citroen car to make their getaway. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Annesley Street, which runs in an L shape from the Antrim Road and joins the Crumlin Road. The gunmen would then have been within walking distance of the Lower Shankill, where the UDA's `C Company' is based.
Accusing the UDA of being behind the attempted killing, Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said: ``The UDA have been orchestrating the violence against nationalists in Belfast over the past month. This is just the most serious incident to date. As for the claim made by the Red Hand Defenders, we all know the UDA have been using that as a smoke screen to cover their involvement in sectarian attacks.''
Patricia McKeown of Unison, the public service union, condemned the attack on the Ashton Centre, highlighting the number of her union's members involved in community and cross community development at the centre, which hosts local children, women and young people in North Belfast.
Community worker Terry O'Neill, who is based in the Ashton Centre, told An Phoblacht ``this was an attack on the whole community, as this centre is very much at the hub of many community projects aimed at developing the Greater New Lodge area.
``The UDA were intent on killing the first Catholic they spotted and it was lucky no one was killed.''
Loyalists assault and threaten hospital staff
Workers at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital are angry and concerned after a weekend incident when a gang of up to 14 loyalists entered the casualty department and attacked staff.
The incident which took place at about 7.20am on Saturday morning, 21 July, when two loyalists were brought to the accident and emergency department after a car crash.
An Phoblacht has since been told that the crash occurred during a fight between rival UVF and UDA gangs on the outskirts of North Belfast when the rival gangs rammed each other's cars. It was when the most seriously injured loyalist was brought to the Royal and his associates arrived to act as bodyguards that the trouble flared.
When the loyalists arrived they immediately became abusive towards staff, shouting sectarian and foul insults at workers. The loyalists then attacked members of the security staff on duty. At least six were physically assaulted. One loyalist spat in the face of one worker while members of the nursing staff were also threatened.
During the incident, one of the loyalists warned staff, ``do you know who you are dealing with?'' He then went on to threaten those present with the LVF and said they would be dead ``within two weeks''.
Despite the loyalists' use of the LVF name, it is more likely given the information available that the gang belonged to the UDA.
According to information An Phoblacht has received, the loyalists were wearing bulletproof vests. When eventually the RUC arrived at the scene, they initially warned the loyalists they were being recorded by the hospital's security cameras.
An Phoblacht has also been told that the RUC were reluctant to confront the loyalists and seemed afraid of them. Indeed, the RUC's main contribution was to threaten to arrest and charge a member of staff who went to the aid of a workmate who was being assaulted.
Family of four escape pipe bomb attack
A Catholic family of four from Cloughmills in County Antrim is the latest to be targeted by loyalist pipe bombers.
Eamon Morrison and his wife Maura were asleep in their home when the device was hurled at the front door at about 1.30am on Wednesday morning, 25 July. The bomb exploded in the porch causing some minor damage. The couple's 13 year old son was in his room using a computer at the time of the attack while their eldest son was out.
A second unexploded pipe bomb was later found on the window sill of the house.
Sinn Féin councillor for the area, Philip McGuigan, accused loyalists of being involved in an ``anti-Catholic pogrom in the North and East Antrim areas''.
Eight-year-old Geordie Devine was lucky to escape serious injury after he was struck on the head by a brick thrown over the peace wall by loyalists at Bombay Street on Monday night, 23 July.
According to the boy's mother, Betty, he is now too frightened to sleep in his bedroom as it faces out towards the so-called peace line.
The incident happened as Geordie was playing in Bombay Street with his friends.
The mother of seven is worried that a child may be killed as loyalists target the area in nightly attacks.
She complained that the RUC are turning a blind eye to the attacks: ``When the trouble starts the RUC come into our street instead going across to the loyalist side of the peace line and stopping the attackers.''
Sinn Féin North Antrim spokesperson John Kelly has poured scorn on RUC promises to ``step up security'' in the area after a loyalist pipe bomb attack on the home of a Catholic man in Portrush County Antrim on Monday night, 23 July.
The man escaped injury in the attack on his home in Glenmanus Park, the eleventh in the area this year. The bomb failed to go off.
``If the RUC's record of action against loyalists in the past is anything to go by then these latest assurances will prove to be worthless,'' said Kelly.
Loyalists caused Whitewell violence
A young mixed marriage couple and their two children have fled their Serpentine Road home in fear after a loyalist mob attacked their home. The house was one of a number of homes targeted by loyalist gangs in the Whitewell area of North Belfast in the early hours of Thursday morning, 19 July.
The couple told An Phoblacht that ``this was the most intense attack on our home yet''. Describing the effect on their two children, aged two and seven, as ``traumatising'', John and Gillian say they don't care what happens to the house now - they are just going to move out. John and Gillian explained that their home and that of their neighbours have been under nightly attack from loyalist youths coming to and from the community centre, which is on the White City side of the `peace wall' that faces their home.
Wednesday night, however, was the most terrifying attack, as their house was hit with a sustained barrage of missiles. ``It was around 1am when it all got serious,'' said Gillian. ``There were hundreds of bricks thrown at the house, breaking all the front windows, and a petrol bomb hit the roof. It was mostly my seven-year-old daughter's bedroom which got the damage.''
``We phoned the RUC five times and told them what was happening and they still didn't come,'' said John.
Sinn Féin councillor Danny Lavery, who visited the area on Thursday morning, accused the UDA of being behind a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation against nationalists in the area.
``Since Monday night, there have been numerous attacks on the homes of residents in the area and I totally refute claims made by loyalists that the trouble was in any way instigated by nationalists living here,'' he said.
According to Lavery, there has been nightly trouble with loyalists stoning homes in Whitewell. Anne Nee, who works in the area, explained that the attacks had been constant over the past number of days, ``especially since the trouble erupted in Duncairn Gardens and Limestone Road''.
Nee told An Phoblacht: ``It's grown men doing it all. They come from Gunnell Hill and White City armed with baseball bats and stoning the front of all the houses in Whitewell Road. There were at least 80 of them on Saturday night attacking the residents around this area.''
Another family from Serpentine Gardens, whose car was targeted a few weeks ago and who were threatened, had their home petrolbombed and their windows broken in Wednesday night's trouble.
The family were threatened by loyalists who came to the `peace wall' fence at the back of their garden. ``There were three of them yelling and shouting, `we're going to burn you out, or you'll be blown out and if that doesn't work you'll be shot out','' said Nee. The men then put on balaclavas. The family next door were also attacked and their windows were broken.
These residents told An Phoblacht that the loyalists were holding the fire brigade back, telling them it wasn't safe, while another group were petrol bombing the houses. As we spoke to them, residents were trying to clear the bricks and stones from their back gardens, but the broken glass and scorch marks from the petrol bombs were all still visible. In an effort to protect their homes from further attack, the residents were fixing plywood across the windows.
``The only protection we have is if we stand together,'' said Anne Nee. ``Since Tuesday night, the RUC have not helped.'' Another resident told how she witnessed the RUC going in front of the up to 80-strong loyalist mob and covered them while they hurled bricks and petrol bombs.
Danny Lavery rubbished loyalist claims that nationalist residents had instigated the trouble on Wednesday night: ``All the evidence is pointing towards the UDA shipping people into the area, as carloads of men have been seen driving to the community centre in White City prior to the attacks. And while nationalists did engage in stone throwing and threw a number of petrol bombs into White City, it was an angry response to four nights of attacks that have seen at least eight nationalist homes attacked and badly damaged.''
Unionist silence on sectarian attacks ``appalling''
Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey is calling on unionist leaders to act in the face of the ongoing sectarian campaign of attacks against nationalists.
``The increase in loyalist attacks on Catholics right across the North can only be described as a sectarian pogrom,'' he said. ``The silence of unionism and unionist leaders in the face of such a sustained pogrom is nothing short of appalling. Unionist leaders such as David Trimble need to use their undoubted influence to halt this sectarian pogrom.''
In the week after the Twelfth, sustained attacks by loyalist gangs saw nationalists in the Duncairn, Limestone and Whitewell areas of North Belfast as well as the Short Strand in the East of the city, endure some of the worst loyalist violence since 1969.
And while most commentators saw that violence as the high point of the loyalist onslaught, the reality proved to be different in the past seven days or so.
An attack on the Ashton Community Centre on Friday 20 July saw UDA gunmen fire 8 shots at two workers. Neither of the men were injured but as they made their escape into the centre the gun gang fired indiscriminately into the building, which houses a creche and where a summer school for five- to eight-year-old children was in progress.
Then on Saturday 21 July, a group of loyalists, possibly as many as 14 men, purporting to be from the LVF, assaulted six security guards in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. The gang described the Royal as a ``fenian hospital'' and told the security men they ``would be dead within two weeks''.
While these incidents may represent the more serious threat posed by loyalists, the reality for dozens of Catholics throughout the Six Counties in the last week is that for no reason other than their religion, loyalists have attempted to kill them.
Last Wednesday, 18 July, in the Deerpark area of North Belfast, a bomb exploded outside the home of a Protestant family. Blaming loyalists for the attack, Sinn Féin councillor Eoin O'Broin said it was designed to ``frighten the nationalist community in a mixed area that has seen a lot of loyalist activity''.
On Thursday 19 July, two petrol bombs were launched across the `peace wall' at Alliance Avenue in North Belfast. One exploded, causing minor damage to the home targeted. This was the second night of attacks on the area.
Also on Thursday, a GAA hall in Attical near Kilkeel, County Down, was gutted in a fire set by loyalists. The fire occurred at a time of tension in the area and Sinn Féin councillor Martin Cunningham is warning nationalists to be vigilant after reports that hooded loyalists were running amok in Kilkeel.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, in Colinbrook in Poleglass, West Belfast, over 20 cars had their tyres slashed as a loyalist gang went on the rampage. Sinn Féin councillor Veronica Willis blamed loyalists based in Seymour Hill, Dunmurry for the raid.
On Friday 20 July a pipe bomb was hurled into the back of a Catholic home in Westland Gardens near the Westland Estate, a UDA stronghold in North Belfast, at 11.00pm. The bomb detonated, although none of the occupants were injured. It was the second time in a week that the house had been singled out for attack. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a bomb attached to the oil tank at the rear of the home exploded. Fortunately for those inside, the device failed to ignite the tank.
On Sunday 22 July on Cupar Street off the Falls Road, the house of a Catholic family of six was the target of loyalist petrol bombers. Two bombs were hurled at the house but fortunately they fell short, exploding harmlessly on waste ground. The area from Bombay Street to Cupar Street has been under constant from loyalists since the beginning of the year.
In Coleraine, County Derry the same day, a pensioner picked up a pipe bomb from the doorstep of his daughter-in-law's home but left it down when he became wary of the object. The British Army later defused the device. It was the second time this year the home was targeted by bombers.
In Coleraine on Monday 23 July, a hoax bomb was discovered on the doorstep of a Catholic woman's home at 7am by the postman. The incident happened in the predominantly loyalist Heights area of the town.
In Newtownstewart, County Tyrone, three pipe bombs were thrown at St Eugene's Chapel in the small County Tyrone village on Sunday 22 July. Some damage was caused to the building. The town has been at the centre of controversy in recent weeks as nationalists objected to a series of loyalist band parades through mainly nationalist parts of the village.
In Ballycastle, County Antrim, two hoax pipe bombs were discovered on Monday morning, 23 July. The devices, attached to telephone poles where loyalists had attached loyalist flags, were both left in the Glenshesk Road area and in the mainly nationalist Altananam estate the scene of a protest against an Orange Twelfth parade last week.
The same day, a bomb exploded outside the home of a Catholic family near Derriaghy outside Lisburn. No one was injured in the attack on the Curran home. However, in the past two weeks loyalists have targeted the homes of other Catholic families in the general Lisburn area.