8 August 2002 Edition
British and unionists must tackle sectarianism - Adams
After a series of UDA attacks on Alliance Avenue in North Belfast over the weekend, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams visited the area on Wednesday 7 August to talk with the residents who have been affected. He was accompanied by local Assembly member Gerry Kelly and Dublin TD Aengus ó Snodaigh.
Gerry Kelly told reporters that there had been an enormous number of attacks on the nationalist residents in Alliance Avenue over the preceeding two weeks.
"Last night, one house was hit by at least five petrol bombs, and an old age pensioner had to be taken to hospital," he said. "Two pipe bombs, one a very large one, were thrown over the peace line into these back gardens."
He pointed out that the intensity of the attacks over the weekend was in all probability an attack on the West Belfast festival, currently taking place in the city. "The purpose of the festival has always been to give people some sort of respite from the interface violence that was going on. Obviously that festival is now being attacked."
Gerry Adams said that the Sinn Féin message was very straightforward: "These sectarian attacks have to stop.
"I think there is a collective responsibility here; we are trying to fulfill our responsibilities - and I think civic society has responded positively, generally speaking. I think it is fair to say that the community, places like the Short Strand and other beleaguered communities have responded in a very disciplined and calm way."
He acknowledged that within the broader unionist and Protestant communities, people wanted the attacks on nationalists to stop, but he added, there was a failure of political leadership.
"There is also," he continued, "within the British agencies, the police service and the other military and intelligence agencies, a view which ranges from tolerance of loyalist violence right through to an involvement of British agents in some of the organisations. For example, it is publicly known that the UDA is heavily infiltrated by Special Branch and other agents.
Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, Pat Doherty and Bik McFarlane are pictured at last Friday's anti-sectarian rally in Belfast organised by Mayor Alex Maskey following the loyalist killing of nationalist youth Gerard Lawlor
"So it cannot be left to the community or civic society. The British state has a responsibility to sort this out. And those on the Executive, particularly the First Minister and the Ulster Unionist Party, also have a responsibility to sort this out."
Dismissing Nelson McCausland's accusation that Sinn Féin was promoting a "vision for a unionist-free North Belfast," Adams said: "If Nelson McCausland is trying to justify these attacks or provide excuses for them, he could have picked a more credible argument. There's no such thing as a unionist-free North Belfast, or a unionist-free Ireland. No one in Sinn Féin wants that. What we want is this city, in particular, to be a shared city. We want all sections of the community to be able to live in peace and equality."
"Nelson McCauseland and his party will not talk to members of Sinn Féin. They will sit in an Assembly with us, in councils and in a range of other institutions. But when it comes to facing up to the real problems, the DUP hide. They don't have the moral courage to come forward to talk to Gerry Kelly and other representatives about these matters.
"How can you blame a 17-year-old who has been wound up by some drug pusher in the UDA when he throws petrol bombs or blast bombs, when his political leadership won't even talk to the people who are on the receiving end of all this."
Adams said that leaders of the nationalist community in north Belfast and elsewhere in the city were totally committed to ending sectarianism. He pointed out that members of the Short Strand community were hosting a debate on sectarianism on Saturday evening to try and talk through the issues.
"There may have been failures at times," he acknowledged. "Protestant people may have been on the receiving end of violence from others, and we have repudiated that very strongly." But, he continued, on the part of Sinn Féin, "there is no failure of leadership, no failure of a willingness to confront this and sort it out".
He said that, confronted with the the ongoing and concerted UDA campaign, nationalists had been angered by the "almost daily stories about the IRA while the loyalist campaign was being presented as a tit-for-tat campaign and people within the RUC/PSNI were feeding stories to the media. Have no doubt, there are elements who don't want this peace process to work."
The experience of nationalists, particularly those living in interface areas, said Adams, meant that there is no possibility of Sinn Féin signing up to the policing board as things presently stand.
"Our position on this is very clear," he said. "The last time I spoke to the British govenment I said to them 'don't even bother to talk about policing unless you are prepared to bring forward the proposals'. The problem for them is tactical. They have a policing board, the SDLP is on it so they don't want to offend them. The UUP's on it, so they don't want to offend them. They know they have to move forward on the Patten recommendations, because that is the basis on which the SDLP is involved.
"So there is no point in us playing footsie around the issue of policing. I want our people to be involved in a police service, but I want it to be a police service they can be involved in. And once the British government moves, we are quite prepared to go to an Ard Fheis and to put those propositions to our membership.
"But bear in mind that, broadly, nationalist people are judging the police on their conduct in the situation around these interfaces. They are judging them on the unwillingness of police officers to come out of Land Rovers, on the way they tell women to 'fuck off' - that is the type of response a number of people who have intervened with police officers have got. It is just the same old agenda and those stories feed through the broad nationalist constituency.
"So it is a British government matter, it hasn't got to do with anyone else but them and they need to sort it out. If they sort it out, we'll come forward in a leaderly way."
Adams visits Short Strand
Gerry Adams accompanied local Councillor Joe O'Donnell on a tour of the Short Strand on Wednesday. Residents are doing their best to enjoy the August festivities, despite the continuing attacks by loyalists
Ardoyne endures more bomb and gun attacks
As nationalist communities throughout Belfast are enjoying the fun and frolics of their community festivals, those unfortunate enough to be living on the interfaces have had to endure a further series of attacks by the UDA in North Belfast this week.
UDA bombers and gunmen attacked nationalist homes in the greater Ardoyne area, putting the lives of dozens of nationalist residents, both young and old, at risk.
On Alliance Avenue, which sits on the Ardoyne side of the 'peaceline' with the Glenbryn estate, nationalist families escaped serious injury after two UDA pipe bombs were thrown at their homes. One device exploded next door to the home of a terminally ill man in the early hours of Monday, 5 August. The man's home has been attacked five times with pipe bombs in the past. The other bomb failed to explode and was defused by British Army bomb experts.
Sinn Féin councillor for Ardoyne Margaret McClenaghan told An Phoblacht that attacks were being carried out throughout the weekend. "It started," she said, "after a group of loyalist men prevented nationalist children from holding a street party on the Ardoyne Road at about tea time on Sunday 4 August. They started calling these children 'fenian bastards' and told them to get off the street."
Then on Monday night, five petrol bombs, along with fireworks and bolts, were thrown at the backs of houses on Alliance Avenue. A 15-year-old, Fra Dillon, was knocked unconscious after he was hit on the head by an object thrown from Glenbryn. "When I came round in the hospital the doctors said the bolt that hit me on the head had been tampered with so that it was sharpened to a point and that I am lucky to be alive," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, loyalists attacked houses at Alliance Avenue for the third time in three days. The attacks spilled over into the night and escalated when the bombers and gunmen returned. Two pipe bombs were thrown at homes, one of which was targeted a number of weeks ago and had an oil tank damaged by a bomb.
Then, shortly after midnight, two bursts of automatic gunfire were directed at homes in Alliance Avenue from Glenbryn. A couple of hours later, other homes were attacked with petrol bombs in Alliance Avenue and it is estimated that up to 100 loyalists were involved.
There was also loyalist paint bomb attacks on Catholic homes in Cliftondene Gardens and Deerpark Road. This was the second time in three weeks that these homes were targeted.
In a separate incident, loyalists threw a fire extinguisher from a car in North Queen Street in the New Lodge Road area. The area was cordoned off for fear of a bomb but it turned out to be a hoax.
Margaret McClenaghan derided the UDA's stated 'no first strike policy'. "When people, and especially children, are determined to enjoy the events in the Fleadh and try to resume some sort of normality in these areas, the UDA are attacking nationalist homes on a nightly basis. I think this policy does not apply to the people of Ardoyne."
McClenaghan also hit out at the RUC/PSNI for responding to loyalist attacks by swamping the Ardoyne and Alliance areas and facing nationalists rather than their attackers.
Catholic student fights for life
A Catholic student is fighting for his life after being left with serious head injuries after a sectarian attack outside Kelly's nightclub in Portrush, County Antrim, on Friday 2 August. Chris Witson, who was out celebrating his brother's birthday, was viciously beaten by a crowd of loyalists in the club car park.
An Phoblacht has been told that the loyalists were ejected from the nightclub by doormen for shouting sectarian abuse. We have also been told that the loyalists identified Mr Witson as a Catholic because of a religious medal he was wearing.
The 20-year-old from Strathmore Park in North Belfast is a student at Dundee University in Scotland. He was rushed to the Causeway Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast due to the severity of his injuries, where his distraught parents are maintaining a vigil at his bedside. It has been reported that his condition has deteriorated.
An eyewitness, speaking to An Phoblacht, said that the group taunted the patrons of the nightclub with sectarian abuse for almost an hour before being thrown out. "They were just out to cause trouble; after they were thrown out they lay waiting for someone to attack," said the witness.
Sinn Féin representative for East Derry, Francie Brolly, said "sectarianism is rife in the Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart triangle and young Catholics should be very careful, especially if they are alone at night".
Newington women injured
In the early hours of Sunday, 28 July, in the Newington area of North Belfast, a 23-year-old mother of two was struck on the head by a rock thrown by loyalists. In the same attack, the loyalists also threw a pipe bomb into Newington Street.
Donna McDade was hospitalised overnight in the Royal Victoria Hospital, as she suffers from epilepsy. At Christmas last year, loyalists sprayed Ms McDade's home with gunfire and her home has been under constant attack from loyalists from Tiger's Bay.
Just last month, the RUC\PSNI tried to remove a security barrier from Newington Street. Local people objected and the RUC\PSNI withdrew the plan.
Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy told An Phoblacht that "the CCTV cameras on the Limestone Road were running the whole time these loyalist attacks were happening but again the RUC/PSNI did nothing; these cameras make no difference to the residents of Newington Street."
Celtic fans assaulted by bandsmen
Sectarian attacks on nationalists were not only confined to Ardoyne on Saturday evening 27 July. Celtic supporters returning on the ferry after a soccer game between Celtic and Parma were attacked by members of two loyalist bands.
One of those injured was a teenager who is still recovering after being stabbed during a sectarian attack last month in North Belfast.
A spokesperson for Beann Mhadaghain Celtic supporters club said that he had asked the authorities to stop the coaches carrying the bandsmen and detain those responsible for the assaults. "A member of the RUC/PSNI said they would be looking at CCTV footage and would contact me," he said. "I'm still waiting."
Kelly slams arson attack on church
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has condemned last week's attack on Whitehouse Presbyterian Church on the Shore Road as indefensible and that any sectarian attack is wrong and that those who perpetrated this attack do not speak for anyone.
Whitehouse Presbyterian Church was gutted in the arson attack just before 4.30am on 1 August. Six lorries in an adjoining motor dealership were also damaged.
The Reverend Liz Hughes said the attack will come as a shock to the whole community and the first people to come to the church to offer sympathy had been Catholic neighbours.
"The Reverend Hughes can be assured that the vast majority of the nationalists and Catholics in the area will support the Reverend and her congregation in rebuilding her church," said Kelly.