20 June 2002 Edition
50 days of attacks
The Short Strand siege
BY LAURA FRIEL
The tragedy lies with the children's toys, now abandoned amongst the debris of a thousand bricks, broken bottles and stones that carpet the area, the once tended window boxes and the still flowering hanging baskets, all of which bear witness to happier times
"This community has been physically, socially and psychologically persecuted over the last 50 days," says Sinn Féin's Joe O'Donnell. He is standing beside a row of houses in the Clandeboye area of Short Strand, the nationalist enclave in east Belfast that has been the focus of a sustained loyalist attack.
And it's a dismal scene of destruction. Nightly bombardment by mobs of masked loyalists has reduced this quiet residential area to near dereliction. And it's not so much the row of boarded windows and barred doors. Nor even the thousands of broken tiles along the roofs, the burnt fencing, the damaged back gates, the scorch marks or the smell of petrol that are the most distressing elements of this scene.
The tragedy lies with the children's toys, now abandoned amongst the debris of a thousand bricks, broken bottles and stones that carpet the area, the once tended window boxes and the still flowering hanging baskets, all of which bear witness to happier times.
And it lies in the darkened rooms where families are still trying to live their lives. It's in the tired faces of residents too fearful to sleep. The flurry of anxiety when there's a knock at the door and the nightly exodus of children forced to sleep elsewhere.
It lies with the homeowners whose confidence in the future has been destroyed along with their property and the elderly couple who have lived here all their lives but no longer feel able to stay; and two-week-old Eoin Rooney, born during the siege and now living under the shadow of loyalist paramilitary flags and his mother Orla, still denied medical access and other essential amenities by the loyalist blockade.
Loyalist threats have forced the local post office to close indefinitely while local shops, including the only chemist in the area, have been 'ordered' by loyalist paramilitaries not to serve Catholics. "We're all too afraid to go to the shops now anyway," says Mairead O'Donnell.
Loyalist intimidation has left local doctors unable to see their Catholic patients at their surgeries. A letter signed by eleven local GPs condemning loyalist threats against their Catholic patients attending surgeries in east Belfast was circulated to the media last week. The community centre, located within the area, now serves as a temporary GP surgery, baby clinic and distribution point for medication and welfare.
Last Thursday evening, the Short Strand community held a rally to highlight their plight. The location of the rally, within the estate, was deliberately chosen to avoid any suggestion of provocation.
Earlier in the day, a statement from the Loyalist Commission, an umbrella group, announced loyalists were to adopt a 'no first strike' policy. The Loyalist Commission, which involves unionist politicians, Protestant clergy as well as loyalist paramilitaries, was established during the recent loyalist feud as a mechanism to end internecine violence.
Within the northern nationalist community the announcement was met with understandable scepticism. In the Short Strand it was accompanied by another loyalist attack. The rally ended in disarray as news filtered through the crowd that a 500-strong loyalist mob were attacking nationalist homes in Penny Court.
In Madrid Street, Sharon McMullan had been watching television with her children when bottles and bricks were thrown over the newly erected barrier. Sharon's two-year-old daughter had been sitting on the front doorstep playing with her dolls. "I jumped up to check if the child was in the hallway," says Sharon.
As Sharon ran towards the front door a blast bomb exploded injuring the mother of six. Sharon was rushed to hospital by ambulance where she was treated for shrapnel wounds. "If my daughter had been there she'd have been killed," says Sharon.
But this isn't just a story about sectarian violence and intimidation by loyalist paramilitaries. It involves the complicity of so many more. It involves the PSNI and the British Army. It involves unionist politicians and their political agenda. It involves the media and the myths peddled to obscure the real dynamic of sectarianism in the north.
As the residents of Short Strand have pointed out, the nightly invasion of Cluan Place by hundreds of masked loyalists armed with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs could be stopped by a police service prepared to 'throw a jeep across the entrance'.
The failure of the PSNI/RUC to confront loyalism has left the ordinary Protestant community of Cluan as vulnerable as their Catholic neighbours. The residents of Cluan were 'evacuated' by the UVF, employing a mixture of scaremongering and intimidation. Once a quiet community of mostly elderly Protestants, Cluan offered the UVF a convenient location within the Short Strand from which to launch their sectarian onslaught.
On Thursday, the loyalist incursion into the Short Strand area during the rally was facilitated by the PSNI and British Army. British soldiers and members of the PSNI allowed the loyalist mob to walk through their cordon. Denied police protection, the residents were forced to engage in hand to hand fighting to expel the loyalist mob.
In the ensuing turmoil the British Army and PSNI fired seven plastic bullets, injuring a number of Short Strand residents. One man was hit in the chest and woman, described as a grandmother in her late 40s, was rushed to hospital with a suspected broken ankle. A photograph of her abandoned blood-filled shoe captured the severity of her injury.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Clandeboye is in danger of becoming another Bombay Street
- Sinn Féin Councillor Joe O'Donnell
Meanwhile, UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble was threatening to collapse the institutions. "Act on Sinn Féin or I will quit," announced Trimble. Speaking on BBC television at the weekend Trimble blamed Sinn Féin and the IRA for the present political crisis and called on the British government to act.
"The NIO and Downing Street don't seem to have the courage to tell the truth. I think it is essential that we face the realities and that we tell the truth and that we do so in order to sustain confidence amongst ordinary people," said Trimble.
But in truth, the only political crisis facing David Trimble came from within his own party. On Saturday, Trimble faced a 120-strong Ulster Unionist executive meeting and anti-Agreement elements within his own party leadership were baying for his blood.
"I, for one, am not prepared to be complicit in a process which turns a blind eye to IRA violence," declared Jeffery Donaldson, turning a blind eye to loyalist violence. Unionists must "act and deal with the IRA's failure to commit themselves to exclusively peaceful means" said Donaldson calling for the exclusion of Sinn Féin.
"If Dr Reid does not face up to the realities of the situation then the Ulster Unionist Party will be left with no alternative but to bring this process down," said UUP Deputy Leader Ken Maginnis.
"The party needs to seek the exclusion of Sinn Féin with support from the DUP and SDLP," said South Antrim MP David Burnside.
To offset any leadership challenge the First Minister was not only prepared sacrifice the people of the Short Strand he was also prepared to beat the Orange drum. Earlier in the week the UUP leader had published a 50-page submission to the Parades Commission championing the right of Orangemen to march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road area.
Stoking the fires of perceived Protestant grievances, Trimble said that the Commission had made 150 determinations on applications by the Portadown Orangemen and none had been in their favour.
In fact there had been only three applications for the 'traditional' Drumcree church parade during this period. The Parades Commission confirmed that of 3,400 parade applications received every year only 5% were subject to restrictions.
Trimble based his figures on what Breandan Mac Cionnaith described as 'the Orange Order's abuse of process', in which Portadown Orangemen had filed for a march down the Garvaghy Road every Sunday for the other 51 weeks of the year, knowing that they would be rerouted.
Trimble's intervention followed comments by DUP Assembly member Sammy Wilson who claimed that republicans were creating flashpoint areas on the Newtownards and Albertbridge Road to stop future Orange marches. "That is what all this trouble is about," said Sammy, "I have no doubt about this."
And in the media, Belfast's Newsletter had been quick to jump on the bandwagon. Euphemistically describing "July as a troublesome month," Monday's editorial continued, "the crisis talks maybe the last chance for Sinn Féin to convince all reasonable people of its democratic credentials or failing that, for Tony Blair to show that he has set acceptable parameters for the continuation of a genuinely democratic process."
Meanwhile, the London and Dublin governments were mouthing platitudes. British Secretary of State John Reid was urging parents to keep their children out of 'inexcusable' violent clashes while Bertie Ahern advised rather than apportioning blame for recent violence all sides should work to calm the situation.
Ironically, it was PSNI Superintendent Tom Haylett, speaking of loyalist violence in Larne, who inadvertently identified that 'situation'. Hardcore loyalist paramilitaries were trying to drive Catholics out, he said.
"This isn't one community against another. These are innocent Catholic people that pose no threat to anyone. This is pure sectarianism for the sake of sectarianism," said Haylett.
Standing among the ruins of Clandeboye, Joe O'Donnell describes the latest loyalist attacks. "The roof on this house was repaired by the Housing Executive on Friday afternoon only to be wrecked again by loyalists on Saturday morning," says Joe.
"Boarded windows stop petrol bombs smashing into the house but once soaked with petrol they ignite easily and these houses are under the constant threat of being set alight. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Clandeboye is in danger of becoming another Bombay Street."
Alliance councillor, Anglican minister and Catholic priest targeted
As loyalist violence spread throughout the North in the past week, so too has the list of those targeted widened. An Alliance Party councillor, Stewart Dickson, and a Church of Ireland clergyman, Earl Storey, both had their homes attacked and badly damaged, while a Catholic priest;s residence suffered scorch damage in an arson attack.
Eight masked men attacked Dickson's Greenisland home on the outskirts of North Belfast at around 1am on Wednesday morning, 12 June. The Alliance councillor was in bed at the time. Every window in the front of the house was smashed with paint bombs and hammers. Two cars belonging to Dickson and his wife had all their windows smashed.
According to Dickson, the attack on his home was an act of "retaliation" for his attempts to have UDA/UFF murals removed from the Glassillan Road area of Greenisland.
"This was extremely frightening for both myself and my wife, It wasn't just me who is demanding the removal of these murals. I was dealing on behalf of a lot of people concerned with the effect these murals were having on the community," he said.
In two separate attacks in the Glenavy area near Lisburn, in County Antrim, a Church of Ireland minister and a Catholic priest were targeted. Neither clergyman was injured when loyalists attacked their homes in the early hours of Thursday morning, 13 June.
In the first attack at St Peter's parochial house on the Rock Road, Lisburn, the sitting room suffered scorch damage when a smoke canister thrown through a window exploded beside a sofa. A second unexploded flare was discovered outside the house.
The resident priest, Father John Murphy, his housekeeper and her 97-year-old mother were in the house at the time of the incident. "There was a banging sound which sounded like an explosion," said Fr Murphy. "At first we thought the church was on fire because we could see smoke coming over the church."
This was the sixth time in the last two years that the priest's home and St Peter's has been targeted by loyalists.
Twenty minutes after the attack on St Peter's, loyalists attacked the Church of Ireland rectory in Glenavy, a few miles away. The Reverend Earl Storey was at home with his wife when several windows of the vicarage were smashed. The windscreen of his car was also broken.
Rev Storey believes he was targeted because he criticised the relationship between the Church of Ireland and the Orange Order. In his book Traditional Roots, which he published recently, he suggested that there should be a progressive disengagement between the Church of Ireland and the Orange Order.
"I have been living here leading a reasonably quiet life and then I publish this book and a month later we have this attack. It is hard not to believe it is linked," he said.
Speculation has it that the loyalist Orange Volunteers may have been behind the attacks, as the loyalist organisation has been active in this area over the last few years.
St Peter's is near Stoneyford village, where a horde of British Military intelligence documents was found in November 1999. The dump uncovered in the village's Orange Hall contained the details of hundreds of Northern nationalists and was said to have been in the control of the Orange Volunteers.
SDLP minister threatened
The SDLP's Carmel Hanna, the Minister for Further and Higher Education in the North's Assembly, has been threatened by the Ulster Young Militants (UYM), the youth wing of the UDA.
Graffiti painted on a wall in the Great Northern Street area of South Belfast warns Hanna "your days are numbered" and labels her "republican scum".
On Sunday 9 June Hanna received a letter from the UFF warning her that she is a legitimate target. This followed her condemnation of loyalist flags in the Lisburn Road area of South Belfast.
There have already been two attacks on her constituency offices. First, an explosive device was left outside her offices on the Lisburn Road, then, on Monday 10 June, a window was smashed in an attempted arson attack.
The UYM has been increasingly active in the South Belfast area in recent weeks. The UDA enlists young people into the UYM and uses them out to start sectarian riots in interface areas. They have also sent these young people to carry out pipe bomb attacks on Catholic homes, schools and chapels.
One such UYM member was Glenn 'Spacer' Branagh, who was killed in November last year when a bomb he was about to lob into nationalist North Queen Street during a UDA attack exploded prematurely.
Cemetery targeted again
Up to ten graves at Carnmoney cemetery in Newtownabbey, on the outskirts of North Belfast, were damaged in a spree of sectarian violence at the weekend. The damage was discovered after relatives attending Mass on Sunday morning went to visit the graves.
Most of the graves desecrated were those of Catholics, including that of a baby's. However the loyalists also targeted the grave of 22 year old Protestant Raymond McCord, who was killed by the UVF in November 1997.
His father has blamed the UVF for the attacks and believes other graves were randomly picked out and attacked to stop the finger of suspicion being pointed at the UVF.
On one grave, a large Celtic cross headstone was knocked over and a photograph on another headstone was gouged out and destroyed. Stone angels on a baby's headstone were broken off and smashed wile flowers from graves were strewn all over the place.
Seamus McAloran, speaking as he visited his sister's grave, called for security at the cemetery to be tightened. "I just could not believe what met me this morning. It was a sight of total destruction," said Mr McAloran.
The grave of 20-year-old Belfast postman Daniel McColgan, who was shot by loyalists at he start of this year, was attacked in May and last month's Cemetery Sunday was marred by loyalist protesters after pipe bombs were found nearby.
Sinn Féin Newtownabbey councillor Breige Meehan told An Phoblacht: "These loyalist attacks on this graveyard are getting out of hand. They are not just attacking nationalists in their homes but now in their graves as well." She addedd that some people are thinking of reinterring their relatives in other graveyards.
McGurks memorial attacked
The memorial to the 15 people, including two children, who died in a UVF bomb attack on McGurk's bar in North Queen Street, North Belfast, in December 1971, was attacked by loyalists on Sunday night 9 June. The monument was erected last year, on the 30th anniversary of the bombing.
In full view of the security cameras on the huge RUC/PSNI barracks in North Queen Street, loyalists poured paint over the monument and escaped. Local residents have told An Phoblacht they saw men getting out of a blue Ford Escort car which had came into the area from the loyalist Tigers Bay.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said: "This is an utter disgrace to try and destroy this monument put up to remember the innocent victims of this atrocity. It is only one in a long line of attacks on monuments across the Six Counties in the past few weeks. This was done to raise the sectarian tensions in this interface area."
It has emerged that RUC/PSNI personnel stationed in the barracks saw nothing of the attack. Marie Irvine, whose mother was killed in the atrocity, was told by the RUC/PSNI the only camera that was working had been pointed at Brougham Street. She responded that they would have been able to see the vehicle used coming from Tigers Bay, but was told that nothing was seen on the camera.
"We put this memorial up ourselves and are just sickened by the attack on the memory of our innocent loved ones," she said. "The local community have been a tremendous support in offering to clean up the damage."
The mother of a 14-year-old boy attacked by loyalists has branded her sons attackers as "sick and twisted". The boy, who is too frightened to be named, said his attackers punched him over and over again and tried to stub their cigarettes out on him and burned holes in his Celtic top.
The attack happened after the youth had got on a bus in the city centre to take him home to North Belfast. Four loyalists also boarded the bus and seeing his Celtic top, surrounded him and started verbally abusing him, calling him names and threatening him. The ordeal only ended for the boy when the loyalists got off at Ballysillan.
"I am very angry, I didn't bring my son up to be sectarian, what harm was a 14 year old doing on the bus?" saked hius mother, Anne Hancock.
Sinn Féin councillor Eoin Ó Broin told An Phoblacht he had written to Translink about the incident and asked them to investigate it. "This is not an isolated incident and I want Translink to look at steps which can be taken to prevent more attacks like this one," he said.
UDA behind hoaxes
A series of loyalist hoax bomb alerts at the Ardoyne shops in North Belfast have caused massive disruption over the past two weeks.
A suspect device left at the shops on Tuesday 18 June brought the number of hoax devices left between Twaddell Avenue and the Ardoyne Road to six in the past two weeks. Two funerals taking place at the Holy Cross Church were disrupted and pensioners were not able to get to the post office while the suspect device was being examined.
Sinn Féin councillor for the area, Margaret McClenaghan, said the campaign is "a calculated move to raise tensions in this area as we come towards the marching season, which begins next week for the people of North Belfast. It is clearly a tactic from the UDA to draw a response from this community.
Loyalists from the Twaddell Avenue attacked nationalist houses after the Ireland football match on Sunday afternoon 16 June.
Trouble in Derry City
Foyle Sinn Féin Assembly member Mary Nelis has accused loyalists of seeking to increase sectarian tensions in Derry.
She was speaking after another weekend marred by sectarian attacks, which included a pipe bomb attack on a nationalist home, stone throwing incidents and the serious assault of a member of the Pat Finucane Centre who was working with CRJ to calm tensions by loyalists.
"Sectarianism, wherever it originates from, has to be confronted. As an Irish republican, I will do all in my power to challenge sectarianism wherever it arises. I will meet with the residents of the Fountain, Bishop Street and surrounding streets to do that.
"However, it has to be said that there appears to be elements within this city intent on increasing sectarian tensions. Events in and around the Fountain at the weekend demonstrate this. The throwing of a pipe bomb into Harding Street from the Fountain on Sunday morning, and the presence of large numbers of loyalists, from outside the area, in the estate on Sunday afternoon suggests loyalist elements are intent on increasing tensions in the city.
"Community Restorative Justice were on the streets of the city centre on Sunday in order to prevent clashes after the Ireland match. I commend them for that. Their thanks was that a member of the PFC working with them was assaulted by loyalists who were not even from the Fountain. It is obvious that they were intent in instigating sectarian violence on Sunday, and had no interest in calming tensions.
"Their involvement on Sunday fits into the pattern of loyalist elements across the North, and particularly in Belfast, of raising tensions. We must ensure their efforts are frustrated in Derry."
A dangerous journey
BY JIM GIBNEY
There are people living in Madrid Street 50 years. They might never see their neighbours or either end of Madrid Street again
After more than 30 years of involvement in this struggle, I can say with some certainty that I'm not easily shocked. I'm not easily angered. I'm not easily moved through frustration to anger. But these were the emotions racing through my body as I left the Short Strand two weeks ago on Saturday afternoon in the company of my comrade and friend Seanna Walsh.
We had spent two hours visiting the district and I can tell you it was a very unpleasant experience. Despite following the news as I know a lot of people were doing about the attacks on the district by loyalists I was not prepared for what I found when I got there.
As we approached the Strand, it was striking the large number of union and loyalist flags surrounding St Matthew's chapel and spreading well into what can only be regarded as the perimeter of the nationalist Short Strand/Ballymacarrett area. Loyalists have always used their flags to denote 'their' territory. On this occasion, they were provocatively using them to lay claim to a nationalist area.
As we turned onto the Mountpottinger Road we were faced with an alarming message on a banner tied between two homes 'End the Siege of the Short Strand'. 'Siege' - the language of the early '70s. Surely several years into a peace process this was exaggerated language? It wasn't long before I found out that it might well have been an understatement.
As we left the car, I heard the unmistakable sound of an Orange band. This sectarian music was the backdrop against which our visit took place rising and falling in intensity as we traversed the area but never fading into the distance as a band would on the march.
In broad daylight and in golden sunshine a friend, who is no stranger to violence having been shot on two separate occasions, once by loyalists, accidentally met us. He kindly offered to guide us part of the way. By nature he is animated, talks quickly and loudly and did so as he greeted us outside his home.
Within yards of his front door and along a narrow tree covered tight pathway his manner changed dramatically. His voice fell to a whisper. His body took on the posture of a man dicing with the dangerous unknown. He crouched as if not to offer himself as a target. We were behind dense undergrowth, virtually impenetrable with the eye, and two fences one bevelled like a venetian blind so that an outsider can't see in but we could see out.
A whistle blew and a startled look flashed across our friend's face. He disappeared momentarily only to reappear, assured there was no attack looming. A youngster had borrowed his mother's whistle. An innocent pastime anywhere else but not here, not now: The sound of a whistle spelt danger.
Less than 15 feet away was the loyalist Newtownards Road and less than 30 yards away was an area from which many of the attacks - gun, bomb, petrol bomb and other missiles - had been thrown for over ten days.
A few feet behind us were the devastating results of these attacks. A row of bungalows, practically burnt out in a similar attack last July, had again been abandoned by their elderly occupants. Large blocks of plywood boarded up windows and doors; large newly made grilles covered other windows. There was no sign of life from within and the talk was there wouldn't be again.
Our guide ushered us closer to the outer fence. We hunched over in total silence. Through a slit he pointed out a man walking a dog. "He's their spotter. When he's about trouble follows. He walks up and down pretending to walk his dog but he's sussing things out."
He was a well-known loyalist troublemaker, yet he walked freely through the lines of the RUC and the British Army unhindered.
I noticed what looked like a car crashed across the junction of a street on our onward journey. It looked so out of place with its windows smashed and tyres let down, sitting as it was in a spotlessly clean street surrounded by equally attractive homes and gardens. It was a strange sight given there was no evidence of a riot or other disturbance around it. This was a makeshift barrier to protect local people from the RUC attacking them from behind while they were defending their homes from frontal attack by loyalists.
The next stage of our dangerous journey took us to a house on the corner of a street a few hundred yards away. Its windows weren't boarded up. It was too far into the district for missiles to reach it but there were bullet holes in the living room and upstairs bedroom windows.
Several people who had been lured onto the street when bricks and petrol bombs were thrown by loyalists over a nearby wall into Bryson Street, where I grew up, dived for cover when an UDA gunman on top of a wall opened up on them. They were lucky to be alive.
Our friend left us and we quickly crossed over the exposed road to safety and shelter. We did it once. Dozens of residents would have to do the same several times a day. As we did so, the sectarian music took on a permanence I hadn't quite noticed before. This must be a stationary band, I thought.
The next shock to my system came when I saw the huge metal barrier across the junction of Madrid Street and Bryson Street. I came of age here as a young teenager. This was my playground as a boy. Madrid Street was a main thoroughfare. It took us wanderers from the tiny Short Strand to the vastness of east Belfast and beyond. At the height of the war, before the IRA cessation, such a barrier was unthinkable, mainly because it didn't suit the military requirements of the Crown forces.
Throughout the years there was an uneasy calm between the people who now live on either side of the barrier, but they at least could see each other. They might never have talked or greeted each other with a wave, but some did. They at least saw life as the other lived it.
There are people living in Madrid Street 50 years. They might never see their neighbours or either end of Madrid Street again.
We had tea with Belfast republican artist Danny Devenney. He has lived in the Short Strand all his life. His account of the past week was harrowing and frightening. The worst he has ever experienced. The sectarian music invaded his home and our conversation.
The phone rang. His daughter Cara answered it. "Mammy said they have thrown a blast bomb," her voice called from the hallway to her Daddy in a casual, almost routine tone. In an instant, Danny was gone as if he hadn't been there. We later found out the man with the dog had completed yet another mission close to where we had spotted him earlier.
Clandeboye estate was hit the worse. House after house had their windows boarded up. People emerged with cups of tea in their hands from behind slabs of board covering their front doors. We entered a house. It was unusually silent, the plywood over the windows killing off the noise from the street. It was like a cavern, no natural light. It had been like this for a week.
All the while the sectarian music played even louder. We finally found out why. A Protestant resident had just recently moved into Cluan Place a few feet away on the other side of a 20-foot wall. She was from the Shankill Road, was playing Orange songs on an amplification system and had been for several days non-stop.
A jeepload of RUC men were feet away. They had been challenged about getting the music stopped but were "too busy reading the paper".
Normal life for the people of the Short Strand has been turned upside down. After a day's work as housewives, community workers, bus drivers, secretaries, hairdressers, driving taxis, and as labourers, they take on another more arduous task, that of vigilantes. They put life and limb on the line to protect their families and their homes.
We had come to the end. This wasn't June 2002. This was Bombay Street, Falls Road 1969. This was August 1971 in Bryson Street just around the corner, when my family home and a street full of others were razed to the ground for fear of a loyalist invasion.
The UDA, the UVF and their political representatives have a lot to answer for. Whatever their game plan, they are responsible for the damage that was done to the homes of the people who live in the Short Strand and the homes of the Protestant people who live close by, which were used by them to launch their attacks or cover them as they did.
As we left, a group of young lads kicked a ball around, trying to reclaim life as it should be for them. Had it not been for lads like these and others who defended the district, the Short Strand might well be a lot smaller today than it is.