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13 June 2002 Edition

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Higher walls no protection

As Gerry Adams met US Special Envoy to the north of Ireland, Richard Haas, yesterday, Wednesday 12 June, he delivered yet again Sinn Féin's message on policing: the Patten Report must be implemented in full, and the party will not settle for its dilution.

Some weeks into a loyalist pogrom on Belfast's most vulnerable nationalist enclave, the Short Strand, and the RUC/PSNI's involvement in the same, recent events have made the most compelling argument to date that further movement on policing is necessary.

This is the time of year most feared by nationalists living in vulnerable areas. The Loyal Orders' marching season arrives amid growing signs that loyalism again intends to crank up its campaign of sectarian violence.

The rising 'peace wall' in East Belfast is a testament to the 'new' police force's inability and unwillingness to protect vulnerable nationalists. It is a puny plaster on the open sore that is loyalist sectarianism, a festering growth that still pervades the Six Counties.

Keeping the communities apart is a poor excuse for the sort of community policing needed to tackle the scourge of sectarianism. The RUC/PSNI, in its current form, is not willing or equipped to do that job and remains a force viewed by many as the armed wing of unionism.

What is required, as we have said so many times before, is the new beginning to policing we were all promised in the Good Friday Agreement.


Short Strand solidarity

Dublin Sinn Féin members protested in solidarity with the besieged nationalist residents of Belfast's Short Strand on Saturday 8 June outside the GPO in Dublin. A petition was collected and messages of support will be forwarded to the people of the Short Strand.

Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West Seán Crowe said that "people on both sides of the divide, Catholic and Protestant, find themselves suffering from the manipulation of anti-Agreement loyalists who are using them as cannon fodder in their campaign to destroy the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process.

"We are holding this demonstration both to highlight the issue and allow ordinary people to demonstrate their support by signing a petition, which will be forwarded on to local people. I am calling on the Taoiseach to do what he can to facilitate dialogue. This violence must end and the Taoiseach has a responsibility to do all he can to bring this about.”


The ABC of hatred

The prevailing media commentary pursued the characterisation of trouble in the Short Strand as emanating from 'two rival gangs' in which, once peaceful but now inexplicably hostile, neighbours were attacking each other's houses. It was a lie, but given the prevailing standards of journalistic endeavour, it was a plausible lie
Understanding sectarianism in the North of Ireland is as easy as ABC. Within the prevailing discourse, sectarian hatred is often portrayed as the inexplicable in the hands of the indefensible. It is deemed outside civic society, a 'beyond the pale' barbarity left over from another era.

Sectarianism is most often associated with the notions of two rival gangs, involving street brawling and disaffected youth. In such a model, support for the police, even a discredited and largely unreformed body like the PSNI, appears to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

But there are three fundamental problems with this working hypothesis. First, sectarian violence is not reciprocal gang warfare; it is the means by which one group imposes its perceived superiority over the other.

Second, it does not exist outside this state but rather it can be found at the very heart of the northern state's political and civic agencies.

Third, within the specific power relations within the north of Ireland, anti-Catholic sectarianism simultaneously includes a religious, political and racial dimension.

The Irish, the Taigs and the Fenians are one and the same when it comes to loyalist aggression. And if anyone doubts this, then all they need to consider are the events of last week.

The Short Strand is a collection of no more than 14 streets with a population of around 3,000 nationalists surrounded by a Protestant population of 60,000. In recent weeks, it has been the focus of media attention, following a sustained loyalist onslaught against the area.

As An Phoblacht went to press last week, the prevailing media commentary had pursued the characterisation of trouble in the Short Strand as emanating from 'two rival gangs' in which, once peaceful but now inexplicably hostile, neighbours were attacking each other's houses.

It was a lie, but given the prevailing standards of journalistic endeavour, it was a plausible lie. In fact, the Protestant residents of Cluan Place had not attacked their Catholic neighbours. They had been 'evacuated' by a loyalist mob prior to an orchestrated sectarian attack against the nationalist community.

The Catholic residents of Clandeboye, who were bombarded with bricks and bottles, fireworks packed with shrapnel and petrol bombs by masked loyalists, did not attack their Protestant neighbours. Any reciprocal violence was directed against their loyalist assailants who had occupied the Cluan area and were launching the attack.

Even at the height of the loyalist bombardment, a Catholic woman whose house had been repeatedly stoned and petrol bombed, Maggie McDowell, could still empathise with her Protestant neighbours.

"The homes of those poor people must be wrecked," said Maggie, "because the loyalists are throwing floor and wall tiles at us. And where else are they getting them?"

But within the mainstream media, few were listening to the words of Maggie McDowell and her community. In line with their 'two rival gangs' model, Maggie was just another mindless hooligan in disguise. But two subsequent events were set to dispute their vision.

The first took place on Wednesday, when loyalists attacked a funeral at St Matthew's Catholic Chapel. The second occurred on Friday morning at a nearby college.

The Tower Street campus of the Belfast Institute of Higher Education is located in the predominantly loyalist east of the city and a short distance from the nationalist enclave of Short Strand.

Shortly before midday on Friday, 7 June, a 100-strong masked loyalist mob forced its way into the Campus complex and confronted the college's students. One female Catholic student said that fellow students had tried to protect her. "Caroline, you've got to get out of here," they had warned.

"We looked out of the window and there was a crowd of men with masks and a banner saying 'No Short Strand nationalists or republicans in East Belfast'."

Those students who were unable to produce identification evidence of their name and home address were locked in a room and interrogated by members of the mob. Any Catholic students, they were told, would be shot dead.

"They came into the hall and grabbed our friend and started shouting at her, "What's your name?" "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" and "If you're a Catholic you're going to be shot."

A masked loyalist pushed the girl against the wall and told her to pronounce the letter 'H'. Another student was ordered to recite 'ABC'. Differences in pronunciation, the loyalists believed, would be sufficient to identify any Catholics within the room.

In the event, no Catholics were killed but they were terrorised. Following the attack, the college has been forced into premature closure for the summer holidays, while outstanding exams have been relocated to other campuses.

In the autumn, it is unlikely that any Catholic students will return. "I can't stop crying. I want to finish my course but I'm too afraid to go back," said a student.

Two days earlier, a loyalist mob of around 300 had attacked a Catholic funeral as it was taking place in the Short Strand's local church, St Matthew's Chapel.

Leo O'Neill and his brothers were carrying their mother's coffin in the chapel grounds when the attack began. Jean O'Neill had died suddenly and prematurely of cancer at the age of 54. A family already grief stricken at the untimely loss of a mother became the target of loyalist aggression.

"As we reached the door of the church we saw a large number of masked loyalists with banners coming towards us," a distraught son told the press.

The mourners fled into the chapel and locked the doors as bricks and stones rained down on the cortege. One brick bounced off the coffin as it was hurriedly carried into the church.

Inside, the mourners were unable to hear the funeral Mass above the commotion of the continuing loyalist bombardment outside. Children among the congregation cried and sobbed in fear and distress. The family were forced to take the coffin out by a back door.

In a blatant distortion of the truth, DUP Assembly member Sammy Wilson subsequently criticised the PSNI/RUC for failing "to remove the republican mob from the chapel grounds."

Within the last week, the Catholic community of Short Strand has been prevented by loyalist lynch mobs from attending the local post office, collecting prescriptions from the local chemist and seeking medical attention at the nearby doctor's surgery. Shopkeepers, who have been ordered not to serve Catholics, are too afraid to defy the mob.

As a consequence, families have been unable to collect their welfare, mothers have been unable to collect baby food from the clinic, and the sick and elderly have been denied medical access.

Catholic children are too afraid to wear their school uniforms, Catholic families are too afraid to sleep in their homes at night. A number of Catholic workers have been intimidated into leaving their jobs. A number of Catholic churches and schools have been torched.

Loyalists have marched behind banners demanding "Taigs Out" and sectarian graffiti has appeared on walls. "No Short Strand Taigs on our road" and underneath the warning "At your own risk" the threat's date of issue is also recorded, "31-5-02". And what has the First Minister to say of this sorry state of affairs?

"I don't want any excuses. I don't want any lies. The truth of the matter is that what we have seen in East Belfast in recent weeks is simple, naked aggression," a suitably irate David Trimble spoke into camera.

But incredibly, his outrage was not directed against loyalists currently besieging the Short Strand. These are the mealy-mouthed words of a former lawyer and a politician unwilling to acknowledge that his career and political agenda is embedded in the sectarian violence of others.

"It is absolutely clear that leading members of Sinn Féin/IRA have been publicly involved in agitation leading to serious disorder on our streets," said the First Minister.

Inadvertently evoking the notorious sectarian ballad 'The Sash', Trimble claimed republicans were "up to their necks" in organising rioting and he demanded immediate sanctions be imposed on Sinn Féin.

And Trimble wasn't alone. Fellow Ulster Unionist Chris McGimpsey criticised the election of Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey as Belfast Mayor. While republicans were behaving aggressively, said McGimpsey, the election of Maskey proved that Sinn Féin now believed itself to be beyond sanction.

Meanwhile, David Ervine of PUP was labelling the political representatives of the nationalist community 'corporate liars'. Accusing the people of the Short Strand of 'ethnic cleansing', Ervine insisted that violence had been orchestrated by republicans.

And on a further sinister note, referring to loyalists who had been injured during the siege, Ervine said loyalists saw themselves as "five-nil down" and warned that they would want to "settle the score". "The IRA has orchestrated this," he said.

While loyalist lynch mobs have adopted the methods of the Ku Klux Klan, their political apologists uphold their right to do so as surely as the Alabama state of 50 years ago.


Policing must be centre stage


The demise of loyalist Mark 'Swinger' Fulton comes in the same week that the Six-County Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) called for an independent, international, public, judicial inquiry into the assassination of Rosemary Nelson. Fulton was a chief suspect in Nelson's killing, and that of Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan.

After keeping the ongoing criminal investigation into Nelson's death under review for three years, the NIHRC now believes that a fresh process, impartial and international, is most likely to arrive at the truth about her death.

Article 2 of the European Covention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to life, the Commission said, had not been fully complied with, not just in respect of the investigation of the killing itself, but also regarding the threats made against Nelson by members of the RUC prior to her assassination.

Significantly also, two weeks ago the NIHRC called for an investigation into the assassination of Billy Wright in 1997. Wright and Fulton had been behind dozens of deaths in Mid-Ulster in the past decade, including the foundation of the LVF and an extensive drug-dealing network.

Fulton was the organisations's representative on General John de Chastelain's commission on decommissioning - facilitating the small but well publicised destruction of a quantity of antiquated weapons.

Wright was assassinated by the INLA, within the grounds of Europe's most secure prison, Long Kesh, in circumstances that seemed to point at a set-up. And now thereis the death of his lieutenant and friend, Mark Fulton, who had information on, and first hand experience of, Britain's direction of loyalist death squads.

William Stobie, who admitted, as a UDA quartermaster, to colluding with British forces in the killing of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane in 1989, was killed in December last, as the campaign for a judicial inquiry into Finucane's death was gaining steam. This, and the disappearance of fellow former UDA/MI5 operative Ken Barrett from his Belfast home that same month, prompted UN Special Rapporteur Dato Param Cumaraswamy to call for an independent investigation into Stobie's death.

It seems strange that most media observers hit a blind spot when it comes to recognising the significance of recent loyalist deaths.

Peter Taylor, former BBC journalist and author of the book 'Loyalists', has asserted that loyalist killings in East Tyrone and Mid Ulster, in which the involvement of Wright and Fulton was pivotal, were "unlikely to have been carried out without some degree of assistance from the security forces". Many people in towns like Cappagh, home of 1981 hunger striker Martin Hurson, and assassinated IRA volunteers John Quinn, Dwayne O'Donnell and Malcolm Nugent, together with civilian Thomas Armstrong, are in no doubt as to British collusion with the UVF's Mid Ulster Brigade.

Many people in Lurgan - where Catholic taxi driver, Michael McGoldrick, was shot dead by the UVF in 1997, Rosemary Nelson was killed, by the LVF, in 1999, and Martin O'Hagan was killed by the same organisation last year - may have come to the same conclusion.

Inquiries into the past, however, must not be the sole focus. The circumstances in the Short Strand should also be viewed with British and loyalist collusion in mind. A republican community of just 3,000 people, surrounded by a loyalist community 20 times its size, has been accused in the media of giving as good as it gets.

Despite a litany of loyalist attacks, the 'all-new' RUC/PSNI has focused its attention on hemming in the smaller community and attacking its members, such as Paud Devenny, who was lucky to survive a batoning last month.

Few loyalists have been arrested, let alone charged, only republican homes have been raided and pulled asunder. The attackers of the Short Strand act with impunity, as the British government does nothing.

In the long term, the solution to sectarianism is not just a law and order issue, but in the meantime, as the loyalist pogrom continues, policing changes must be put centre stage.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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