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1 November 2001 Edition

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Long challenges UDA over Finaghy attacks

Six families flee homes in 18 months



Sinn Féin representative for South Belfast, Stiofáin Long, is challenging loyalist leader Jackie McDonald to call on the UDA to end its campaign of sectarian violence against Catholics living near Finaghy Crossroads.

Long warned that "the seriousness and regularity of the loyalist attacks over the past month has raised fears in the area that South Belfast is the latest front in the UDA war on nationalists".

In the weekend after the UDA ceasefire was "specified" by the British Secretary of State John Reid, tension in the area was high, he said. The RUC approached local residents asking them to keep young people away from Finaghy Cross, as they were worried the UDA might do something. The RUC maintained that they had no information of a specific threat and said the measure was a precaution.

The following weekend, however, gangs of men came into the area of Finaghy Road South, Grangeville and Diamond Gardens and attacked young people and homes. "The RUC were nowhere to be seen," said Long.

That Friday night, 19 October, up to ten loyalists threw bottles at one resident as he stood in his front garden. He had been asleep in his bed when he heard the commotion in the street and went out. He was confronted by a ten-strong gang of loyalists, some wearing Rangers tops. As the man retreated under a hail of missiles, one of which broke the window in his front door, he called on his wife who was in the house with their two young children to get upstairs.

The man dialled the RUC, yet it took them over 35 minutes to appear. "They said they didn't have the resources", he said.

One teenager was hospitalised as a result of a beating he was given. He suffered severe bruising and a broken nose.

In a later spate of attacks on Sunday morning, 21 October, a householder was attacked by a loyalist wielding a golf club. A second house was attacked in this raid and a number of car windscreens were smashed.

Long says carloads of men carry out regular raids on the area, cruising the streets before setting upon young people at random and attacking them using baseball bats and on occasion iron bars and hammers.

Now parents, terrified by the UDA activity, are stopping their young people from going to the shops or hanging out on the streets.

For six Catholic families, the terror became too much. These families had to evacuate their homes under the Housing Executive's SPED scheme. Under this scheme, the Executive will buy a private dwelling, allowing the owners to move out without losing the total value of their home. The fact that the RUC must confirm that attacks have occurred before the Executive will go through with a purchase is testament to the seriousness of the threat to these families.

It is against this background of intense attacks that Long is calling for a meeting with loyalist Jackie McDonald, a former UDA prisoner and one of the UDA representatives who met with General de Chastelain to discuss UDA decommissioning.

Long says McDonald could use his influence to stop the attacks - "It is just a question of whether or not he has the will to act."
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