25 October 2001 Edition
Loyalist Pogrom in North Belfast
BY LAURA FRIEL
The first pipe bomb thrown over the rooftop hit eleven-year-old Neidin on the chest before exploding at her feet. Standing with Neidin was eight-year-old Sinead. Just a moment earlier the two friends had been enjoying playing ball outside their homes and under the supervision of Sinead's father.
"There was a ball of fire," says Sinead, "we panicked when the first one came down and then we ran." Before the second pipe bomb exploded Sinead's father grabbed her, lifting the child into his arms.
The second bomb exploded at the spot where Sinead had been standing just moments before. Sinead's mother Kathleen ran out to see her daughter lying limp in her father's arms. "I thought she was dead," says Kathleen.
Both children were rushed to hospital after shrapnel was discovered embedded in Sinead's back. Neidin experienced ringing in her ears and difficulty breathing. Both girls were clearly in a state of shock.
"I could feel a burning in my back," says Sinead, "I was very scared." At the hospital a piece of copper was removed from Sinead's back.
"The children had x-rays to rule out any other shrapnel wounds," says Kathleen, "there was a red friction mark on Nadine's chest where the first bomb had hit her. The medics were concerned that there might be an internal injury."
This was not the first time the children have been attacked. Neidin described surviving another loyalist bomb attack on her Newington Street home just a few weeks earlier. The child was seated on a sofa in her living room when a blast from a bomb thrown into the back yard threw her to the ground. "I'm not safe anywhere. I'm not safe in my house and I'm not safe in the street," says Neidin.
A pogrom is defined as organised persecution of an ethnic group. Its roots lie in the Russian word for destruction and the historic experience of European Jewry. For many people pogrom is a word associated with the past, wrongs belonging to another time and another country. But such a notion is at best misplaced. Persecution in different forms has remained a sad reality for many communities throughout the modern world.
Currently, for nationalists living in North Belfast, who have endured systematic persecution for almost a year at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries, pogrom is the noun which best fits the experience. In the last ten months throughout the north of Ireland, the Catholic community has been subjected to loyalist violence almost daily.
In North Belfast, where the vast majority of the most serious attacks have taken place, normal daily life has virtually been suspended. Here, if you are a member of the Catholic community, you are vulnerable to attack during every aspect of your life, at home, at work, going to school, to chapel, at leisure.
At a conservative estimate there has been over 300 pipe bomb attacks in as many days. But this is only the most serious of a litany of improvised weaponry, including bricks, bolts, bottles, sticks, batons, hammers, hatchets, fireworks, petrol and paint, all of which are currently being used by loyalists in pursuit of their campaign of hatred. And the attacks continued unabated last week.
On Wednesday, Holy Cross children and their parents were filled with terror when a bomb exploded close to the junction of Ardoyne Road and Alliance Avenue as they were walking home through the loyalist blockade.
Children and their parents, who only a few weeks ago were directly targeted during a pipe bomb attack, screamed and ran in panic. Local priest, Fr. Aiden Troy, who had been accompanying the children, was at the scene moments after the blast.
Teresa McKee was at home when a blast bomb was thrown at the back of her home, smashing windows and blowing in the back door. Teresa's terrace house backs onto the loyalist Glenbryn Park. The Catholic mother of two sustained cuts and grazes to her face and was treated for shock. The rear of her home was extensively damaged.
Denying that the timing and location of the attack had been a deliberate attempt to further terrorise already traumatised Catholic school children, PUP loyalist Billy Hutchinson said it was time that Holy Cross parents "stopped whinging."
Fr Troy described it as "extraordinary that it happened just as the children and parents completed their walk from school." It created a new sense of tension, said the priest. "It is nothing short of miraculous that no one was injured or killed."
On the same afternoon in another part of North Belfast, a family were sitting down to tea when loyalists smashed their front window. The gang had broken through an interface gate on Duncairn Gardens. The Catholic family targeted in the attack had received a number of recent death threats.
The attack followed a loyalist incursion on the previous night when a number of pipe bombs were thrown at Catholic homes. Two bombs exploded close to homes on the junction of Duncairn Gardens and Hallidays Road. A third device failed to detonate after being thrown at a house in Newington Street. On the same night several hundred loyalists attacked nationalist residents in the Whitewell area of North Belfast after a failed incursion attempt.
On Thursday a group of people standing on the Antrim Road narrowly escaped injury when a pipe bomb was thrown at them from a passing car. The attack happened outside the Northern Bank premises at Newington. The bomb, described by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly as "a sophisticated grenade type device", failed to fully detonate.
Dermot Winters (21) was walking along the Cliftonville Road in the early hours of Saturday morning when three men approached him and attempted to drag Dermot into a white Vauxhall car. The young Catholic was beaten around the head with a hammer but managed to fight off his attackers until a passing motorist intervened.
"They shouted 'let's kill the Fenian bastard'," says Dermott. "They really hit me full force with the hammer but I had put my hands around the back of my head to protect myself; that probably saved me."
Last Sunday, there was an incursion attempt by a 50-strong loyalist mob in the Limestone Road area of North Belfast, during which nine pipe bombs were thrown at nationalist residents. During the disturbance a loyalist sustained a gunshot wound. It was reported as non-life threatening.
A Catholic couple and their four children, aged between 5 and 14, survived a pipe bomb attack on their Deerpark Road home. The attack took place shortly after 9pm on Tuesday night. The explosion shattered windows and damaged a neighbour's car exposing the deadly potential of the device. The family were later treated for shock.
To label the campaign of intimidation currently being pursued by loyalists against northern nationalists, a pogrom implies more than the organised nature of the violence itself. By definition, a pogrom involves a certain official complacency, a tacit acceptance, even complicity within the wider institutions of the state and civil society.
Nationalist residents under attack in North Belfast repeatedly complain that the RUC are failing to confront loyalist violence. Last month Carmel Grant described an armed RUC patrol ignoring her pleas for help during a loyalist bombardment of her Newington Avenue home. The family were left to fend for themselves while the RUC sat in their armoured vehicle a few feet away.
More recently, the RUC's reluctance to identify the serious nature of some loyalist attacks has left residents believing that members of the RUC are deliberately manipulating the evidence. In an attempt to disguise the real extent of loyalist violence, incidents which are clearly pipe bomb attacks are being classified as 'only fireworks'.
Duncairn family attacked
The home of a Catholic family, living on Duncairn Gardens, was attacked by a gang of loyalists as the family sat down to tea on Wednesday afternoon, 17 October. The loyalist stone throwers came through the peace line gate into Duncairn Gardens and stoned the Catholic house, breaking the front window.
Nationalist residents have called for the gate to be locked or permanently sealed as loyalists have continually come through the gate in their incursions into Duncairn Gardens.
This area has also suffered from loyalist pipe bomb attacks. Last Tuesday evening, 16 October, two pipe bombs exploded close to houses on the junction of Duncairn Gardens and Halliday's Road.
Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy blamed the UDA and said the family targeted had received death threats in recent weeks.
"It's a disaster this gate has been left open, because this is always the result. The gate is not needed because it does not lead to houses or shops. It's about time unionist politicians spoke out about this. It's only a matter of time before we're pulling bodies out of here," said Brophy.
Longlands estate under siege
Residents from the Longlands estate on the outskirts of North Belfast are taking drastic measures to protect their homes from attack by loyalist gangs.
The residents have taken to wrapping black bin liners around street lamps on the estate, in effect imposing their own blackout in a bid to foil the loyalist gangs who are throwing missiles from nearby Whitewell Road at homes and residents' cars.
Families have also been filling wheelie bins with water in case of any arson attacks, as loyalists have launched numerous petrol bombs on Longlands.
The residents say they are willing to put up with the blackout if it prevents attacks on their homes, especially as the estate has been subjected to a barrage of attacks by petrol bombs, bricks, bottles and fireworks every night since Friday 12 October.
One 28-year-old mother, who is confined to a wheelchair, has had her home pelted nightly with paint bombs and fireworks. "Six weeks ago a petrol bomb bounced of the window sill and burnt itself out on the ground," she said. "Thank God, otherwise I'd be dead."
Residents say the UDA is busing people in from other areas of Belfast to carry out the attacks.
Long March group slammed
Derry-based human rights group, the Pat Finucane Centre, has hit out at the 'The Long March' committee, which plans to protest outside the venue of the Bloody Sunday inquiry on 10 November.
The Long March committee intend marching from Drumahoe, just outside Derry City, to the Cenotaph in Derry City Centre, where they will lay a wreath and hold a service before marching on to rally at the Guildhall, where the Bloody Sunday inquiry is being held.
According to the spokesperson, they are organising the rally to highlight a campaign for an inquiry into "the genocide which has been carried out by IRA terrorism against the pro-Union people of Northern Ireland over the past 30 years". Details of the march and rally were first announced at a Grand Protestant Committee rally in Ballymena town hall earlier in the month and it has been revealed that the march has been advertised on the events page of an extremist loyalist website linked to the Orange Volunteers.
A spokesperson for the Pat Finucane Centre has urged the organisers of the rally to leave their banners outside and attend the Bloody Sunday inquiry. "Perhaps then, they would begin to understand what was done in their name on Bloody Sunday and accept that deep hurt was caused to both unionists and nationalists over the past 30 bloodly years," he said.
The spokesperson also revealed that the Pat Finucane Centre has written to the RUC, urging them to investigate some of the comments made at the Ballymena rally, saying these could contravene incitement to hatred laws.
Manor Close residents demand security fencing
Residents from the Manor Close area in the Lower Oldpark area of North Belfast are demanding security fencing be built around the back of their homes after a catalogue of loyalists attacks since the summer.
Last Thursday evening, 18 October, in the nearby Clifton Park Avenue, a loyalist gunman fired a number of shots at local residents. Sinn Féin's Margaret McClenaghan told An Phoblacht that the residents were lucky to escape with their lives.
In the past weeks, in the run up to the shooting, there have been almost nightly attacks, including pipe bomb attacks, in which residents believe they were lucky to escape injury.
One resident, Linda Hardy, told how she and her three daughters have been forced to sleep in the front bedroom for months due to the nightly attacks. The latest attack was on an elderly woman's home, as loyalists smashed all the windows in the house.
Community worker Manus Maguire said it was essential that the Oaklee housing group offer local residents much needed security.
"We have three main concerns," said Maguire. "We want the windows strengthened and the oil tanks protected in case they are set alight and the fencing at the rear of the houses to be extended. Without these necessary improvements being carried out, the residents will not be safe."
Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin Ó Broin told An Phoblacht, "some of the residents are talking about a rent strike if Oaklee do not protect the homes which they helped build."