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9 May 2002 Edition

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Loyalist incursions captured on film

In Duncairn Gardens a loyalist mob runs through a gateway that divides the loyalist Tigers Bay from the nationalist interface area to the New Lodge. Although the footage is too dark for the amateur videotape to expose exactly what members of the mob are carrying, figures captured on film appear to be lobbing objects at nationalist homes.

The sound of breaking glass and subsequent inspection of the damage confirms the nature of the attack. Apart from the loyalist mob, there are no other people on the street. Unchallenged, the loyalists smash windows and damage cars before running back into Tigers Bay.

At the edge of the nationalist interface area of North Queen Street and in full view of the RUC/PSNI, a loyalist mob watches as a hijacked food lorry, taken just moments before from the nearby Yorkgate shopping complex, is used as a barricade.

From behind their barricade, loyalists continue to pelt the nationalist area while RUC/PSNI armoured vehicles race towards nationalist residents standing outside their own front doors. An RUC/PSNI Land Rover circles and accelerates towards a young nationalist like an angry bull at a Spanish toreador.

On the videotape a youth runs and swerves aside as the vehicle appears to clip him. Other armoured vehicles mount the kerb, scattering nationalist residents standing outside their own homes. The RUC/PSNI ignore the loyalist mob and the hijacked lorry.

From inside a Land Rover the muzzle of a plastic bullet gun is visible pointing through the gun port. Another RUC/PSNI officer is captured on film holding a camera and filming from inside a vehicle.

In the Whitewell area of North Belfast, two masked loyalists carrying bottles stroll across Arthur Bridge towards nationalist residents gathered at the edge of their estate. The RUC/PSNI drive past at speed. The masked loyalists remain unchallenged.

As an RUC/PSNI Land Rover speeds towards the nationalist Whitewell estate, a loyalist mob uses the vehicle as cover and running behind launch another attack. No action is taken against any member of the loyalist mob.

At a North Belfast press conference, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey invited journalists to view film footage of a number of loyalist incursions into nationalist areas in North Belfast at the weekend.

"The purpose of showing this video footage this morning is to refute absolutely the allegation that republicans have been central to organising riots in North Belfast," said Maskey.

"We have not at any time ever suggested that there are no incidents emanating from the nationalist community but by the same token, and there's plenty of evidence to show this, the vast majority of these incursions are incoming to the nationalist community.

"I would invite journalists who have been reporting events on the ground here for the last twelve months or longer to set the record straight. Many of you will have seen republicans, particularly elected representatives, on the streets around the clock trying to keep the area quiet and incidents to a minimum," said Maskey.

He was responding to continuing media spin that portrays current violence in interface areas within North Belfast as sectarian rivalry in which each community is intent on inflicting fear and injury upon the other.

Banner headlines in the Sunday Life "Mob Fury" with the subheading "Cops hurt as Old Firm yobs clash" typifies the style in which incidents are fragmented and reported. It's a story of 'rival gangs', 'sectarian flash points', 'rioters', 'thugs' and as the Sunday Life puts it, "bricks and bad attitude".

We are encouraged to understand what is happening in North Belfast in the same way in which we would evaluate football hooliganism. And last Saturday's disturbances conveniently fed the myth, with "fists after the football".

The violence is depicted as mindless and meaningless and those caught up within it as only worthy of our contempt. "It's madness," declared the Sunday People referring to "the nutters from both sides".

But for nationalist families living in interface areas, disturbances like last Saturday's in North Queen Street cannot be understood outside the operation of a sectarian state, its forces and the vicious anti-Catholic campaign of violence that has accompanied the loyalists' officially declared ceasefire for several years.

In North Belfast, that experience has been particularly intense, with over 500 loyalist bomb and gun attacks during the last 14 months. Add to that the inability or refusal of the PSNI, and formerly the RUC, to arrest and convict loyalists engaging in sectarian intimidation.

And then there is the media's obsession with 'balance', in which, however inappropriately, loyalist violence must always be countered with nationalist or better still republican violence. This dovetails nicely with the agendas of unionist politicians prepared to stoke the sectarian fires for their own political ends.

Or the interplay of both, as with this week's front-page coverage by the Newsletter of the spurious unionist claim "Republicans are trying to provoke Protestants into renewing the Holy Cross School protest." "They're trying to re-ignite Holy Cross," said Chris McGimpsey, "they're playing cat and mouse with Protestants. They've been at it since Saturday and it's well orchestrated and well thought out."

All this leaves northern nationalists unprotected by the usual sanctions of a state. And, as film footage of disturbances throughout interface areas of North Belfast last week clearly shows, the plight of nationalist residents facing loyalist mob attacks on their homes is compounded by the hostile antics of the RUC/PSNI and dishonesty within the subsequent media spin.

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