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15 August 2002 Edition

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Unite against sectarianism


Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin last night rejected comments from loyalist John White attempting to apportion blame for sectarian violence onto republicans. The party chair has also repeated Sinn Féin's call for a broad-front campaign against sectarianism in the Six Counties.

White made his comments after a meeting with British minister Des Browne at Stormont on ways to end interface violence and two days after young nationalist Chris Whitson died as a result of injuries received in a sectarian attack in Portrush ten days earlier. White, of the Ulster Political Research Group -- which politically represents the UDA -- said there was a near-consensus against sectarianism but that republicans needed to accept their role in the disturbances.

McLaughlin rejected these allegations on the eve of a Sinn Féin press conference, to be held tomorrow afternoon, at which the party will respond to a report from the Housing Executive revealing that 50 families have been forced to leave their Antrim homes in the last number of months - mainly by loyalist organisations.

If John White wishes to be taken seriously, McLaughlin said, then he and other unionists would have to admit that the vast majority of sectarian violence is emanating from loyalist areas.

"Even independent observers are now in a position to corroberate that 90% of the violence is being carried out by unionists, and that the primary organisation involved is the UDA. If John White wants to taken seriously, then he has to admit that the vast, vast majority of violence is coming from the Loyalist community.

"We put proposals regarding a united front against sectarianism to both governments in the recent Hillsborough talks - calling for a campaign in which the political parties and others can express their abhorrence for what is currently going on and allowing the primacy of politics to develop."

Meanwhile, a leading figure in an Ulster Unionist pro-Agreement pressure group today slammed loyalists who have attacked or intimidated Catholics from their homes.

Former Irish rugby international and founder of the pressure group Re-Union, Trevor Ringland, said many unionists felt "a real sense of anger" about the attacks and he called on colleagues to condemn loyalist violence as vigorously as they condemn republicans.

"Clearly I acknowledge that, in interface areas of Belfaste specially, Protestants are being attacked day and night. Republicans cannot hide from their responsibility to do something to help calm that situation," he said.

"However, the ongoing violence this summer, perpetrated by anti-Agreement forces within loyalism who are hellbent on chasing Catholic families out of Protestant areas, does nothing to strengthen the Union.

"In fact, it only serves to help those republicans who want to portray Northern Ireland as some sort of unworkable entity."

Ringland said that some unionist politicians "only seem to be able to see wrong on one side".

"It is also time that all unionist politicians were honest with the unionist community and provide necessary and clear leadershipto help create a peaceful, economically prosperous and politically stable Northern Ireland for the benefit of all the people."

His comments came after further loyalist attacks in north and east Belfast.

Catholic student dies after sectarian attack

A Catholic student, savagely beaten by loyalists outside Kelly's nightclub In Portrush, County Antrim, last Friday 2 August, has died of his injuries.

Chris Whitson a 20-year-old student from Strathmore Park in North Belfast and a student at Dundee University in Scotland, was in a coma in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he died on Monday night 12 August.

According to witnesses to the attack, the loyalists responsible were ejected from the nightclub by bouncers because they were hurling sectarian abuse at people inside.

Again, witnesses say that Whitson was identified as a Catholic when the loyalists spotted a holy medal he was wearing.

The loyalists lay in wait in the car park of the club and when Whitson came out they set upon him and left him with severe head injuries.

Whitson was brought to the Royal Hospital and put on a life support machine, where his family kept a vigil at his bedside.

The Whitson family's parish priest, Father Sean Emerson, said that although the family had held out hope that Chris would pull through, they were aware for some days that he was dying. "I suppose they had a certain amount of time to get used to the idea over the past ten days that Chris would die," said Father Emerson.

On Tuesday 13 August, a bail application at the High Court in Belfast on behalf of 20-year-old David Gaston from Eglish Road and 28-year-old Gary Davidson from Carnstron Road, both in Broughshane, County Antrim, was adjourned after Justice McLaughlin said it would be "entirely inappropriate" at this time. The pair are being held on remand on charges of causing grievous bodily harm.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin representative for East Derry, Francie Brolly offered his sincere condolences to the family of the young man. "This is another brutal sectarian killing carried out by loyalists intent on raising sectarian tensions in this area," said Brolly.


One week of terror in the Short Strand


Ferocious loyalist attacks on the Short Strand area and its nationalist residents have continued almost without interruption during the past week. Many originated from Cluan Place, a gathering point for loyalists which abuts the so-called peace wall, supposedly protecting the 3,000 nationalist inhabitants of Short Strand from the 90,000 loyalist residents of the area surrounding the beleaguered enclave.

Cluan Place itself is a small cul-de-sac with one road in and out, which consists of around 20 houses, of which all but two are empty. Loyalists appear to have commandeered one or more of the empty houses and have installed a PA system from which they routinely direct deafening music in the direction of nationalist homes throughout the night.

At Cluan Place, the top ten feet or so the 'peace wall' actually consists of flimsy wire fencing held in place with scaffolding. The scaffolding facilitates attacks on Clandeboye and beyond by providing a vantage point from which loyalists are able throw missiles down into Short Strand, and by providing additional ammunition in the form of large scaffolding bolts.

The catalogue of attacks, from Thursday last week, is as follows.

Thursday 8 August

A number of missiles; that is, large rocks, bricks and bottles, together with three hoax pipe bombs, were thrown from Cluan Place into Clandeboye at about teatime. During the day, the RUC entered the area to remove hose pipes which Short Strand residents had installed so that they had some means of tackling the fires caused by pipe and petrol bombs thrown into the area. The hoses were returned later that day, but on Saturday evening, the RUC returned and sliced through some of them.

Friday 9 August

Missiles and fireworks were thrown over the wall all day.

Saturday 10 August

Missiles were thrown sporadically throughout the day. At around 6.30pm a large number of loyalists returning from the Apprentice Boys march in Derry gathered in the nearby Orange Hall before descending on Cluan Place and launching missiles over the wall. A number of youths in Clandeboye responded by throwing them back. At 7.30pm, as the intensity of the attack increased, nationalist residents approached the RUC/PSNI to ask for assistance. The RUC/PSNI reacted by sending a large contingent of officers into Clandeboye Gardens, in full riot gear, where they attacked the residents. Nine people were injured, including one woman who needed six stitches in a head wound after being struck by a police baton.

The RUC initially placed reports in the media claiming they had gone into Clandeboye Gardens after petrol bombs had been thrown into Cluan Place. They said that the residents had mounted "a sustained and orchestrated attack" involving "at least 200 people" on its officers and causing 13 injuries. They were obliged later to retreat from this position when local Sinn Fein councillor, Joe O'Donnell, revealed that nationalist residents had photographic and video evidence of the attacks coming from Cluan Place.

It then emerged that the crowd of "rioters" referred to by the RUC/PSNI was, in fact, a group of mostly women and children. They had been clearing up after a day painting coloured flowers on the wooden hoarding which most of the residents whose houses face the wall have been obliged to place over their windows to stop them being continually broken and to stop petrol and pipe bombs being thrown through them.

During the raid, which lasted for around an hour, the RUC/PSNI also sealed off Mount Pottinger Road, preventing residents from getting in and out of Clandeboye and preventing many of them from getting into their homes. Those who attempted to get through the police lines were beaten. Attacks from Cluan Place continued throughout, although not one arrest was made in the area and police did not make any effort to disperse the crowd gathered there.

When challenged about this failure, one a senior officer claimed that police had not prevented loyalists congregating in Cluan Place immediately prior to the attack on Clandeboyes because "they were not causing any trouble at that point" and because "we don't have the right to move people from where they want to be".

Sunday 11 August

Nationalist residents of Short Strand held a street party in an effort to provide some relief for the increasingly traumatised children of the area. During the day, there was sporadic stone throwing from Cluan Place. At about 8pm, loyalists began to play loud rave music over the PA system and to throw stones and fireworks over the wall. The music was played at deafening volume for most of the night. At 10.45pm, two pipe bombs were thrown into Strand Walk, one of which exploded. At 11.20pm, another pipe exploded bomb in Clandeboye Drive. Once again, the RUC/PSNI came into the area, again in riot gear, but were persuaded to leave by residents. An Army bomb disposal crew disposed of the remaining, unexploded pipe bomb. Stone throwing continued most of the night.

Monday 12 August

From the early afternoon and for the rest of the day, bolts taken from scaffolding on the wall were thrown by loyalists positioned on the scaffolding at residents in Clandeboye. At 8pm, well over a thousand loyalists, many of them well-known UDA men, gathered along Mount Pottinger Road, Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road in what seems to have been a crude attempt at the sectarian intimidation of nationalist residents. No effort was made to disperse the crowd or to ensure that they did not mount an invasion of the Short Strand. The crowd was still there at midnight, when the British Army moved into the area. Again, however, no attempt was made to clear the area.

Wednesday 14 August

At the time of going to press, Short Strand residents learned that an, apparently hastily organised, march by the Black Perceptory will take place in the area on Wednesday evening. According to the RUC, it will include something like 20 bands. So far as anyone can tell, there is no precedent for this march; certainly nationalist residents do not recall any similar march taking place in previous years, nor does the march appear to be commemorating any particular event.

Speaking to An Phoblacht about the situation in the Short Strand, Sinn Féin Councillor Joe O'Donnell said: "Quite clearly, this catalogue of events and the nature and severity of the attacks indicate that this is far from being a sectarian turf war, but in reality is the persecution of a small Catholic community daily and nightly, physically, psychologically and socially. People no longer live in Short Strand; they exist." The RUC/PSNI response to the situation in east Belfast, he added, "stretches from incompetence to collusion".


Independent TD backs besieged nationalists

Independent TD Finian McGrath has spoken out strongly about the constant sectarian attacks endured by the Northern minority iin the Six Counties for the past three months.

"The silence in the 26 Counties and lack of serious analysis is a national disgrace and has got to be challenged," said the Dublin North Central TD. "The sectarian murder of Gerard Lawlor is now leading us down the road of more violence. David Trimble and the unionist politicians seem to be hoping that the Agreement disappears off the political map. I now call on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to:

Assist the Northern minority;
Demand an end to sectarian attacks;
Put pressure on the British government to face up to their responsibilities;
Stand up for the Good Friday Agreement and stop pussyfooting around with the British and the loyalists;
Demand international observers and protection for the nationalists."


Racist UDA mural slammed

Patrick Yu from the Council for Ethnic Minorities has slammed what he describes as a racially motivated mural painted on a wall in a UDA stronghold in South Belfast. "We are worried that this message will transform into racial harassment or an attack," said Yu.

Loyalists painted the Ku Klux Klan mural on a wall at Fane Street in South Belfast close to the loyalist Village area above UDA and Ulster Youth Movement murals. It is also near a UDA mural below the Tates Avenue Bridge. The black intimidating letters KKK surrounding a swastika on a white background feature prominently on the wall of a derelict building.

The Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, has condemned the painting of the mural, saying that people who paint such murals offer nothing.

"These people are just racists and I am concerned that more racial attacks will be carried out, given the number of ethnic assaults which have already been carried out. We just have to look at the sectarian attacks being perpetrated by loyalists against Catholics."

Maskey called on the Loyalist Commission to use their influence to have flags removed from lamp posts in mixed areas after being contacted by residents in the Ballynafeigh and Ravenhill areas in particular.

Children escape birthday bomb.

A three-year-old boy had a lucky escape when he picked up a UDA pipe bomb which he found in the garden during a birthday party for his two-year-old cousin. The incident happened on Friday 9 August in the nationalist Largantogher Park in Maghera, County Derry.

According to the boy's grandfather, Peter Merron, there were 14 children, all under 11, at the birthday party for Aisling Hughes when Ronan found the device.

Merron said he was gathering the children together for a photograph when he called Ronan in. He noticed the child was carrying an object, which his uncle recognised was a bomb. The adults quickly brought the children inside.

"Its frightening to think what could have happened if Ronan had fiddled with it beside the other kids," said Merron.

Merron said the RUC/PSNI told him the device was in a poor state and could have been lying in the front garden for some time. The family received a threatening phone call in October and the device could have originated from then.

DUP claims over church service attack dismissed

Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan has hit out at allegations from the DUP's Willie McCrea that republicans were behind an attack on an open air Free Presbyterian Church Service on Sunday 11 August.

A crowd assaulted the 60-strong congregation with missiles and verbal insults during the service in Randalstown, County Antrim. Five people, including a disabled man, had to be taken to hospital and the PA system was destroyed.

Meehan told An Phoblacht: "Republicans totally abhor such attacks and would never be involved in such unwarranted assaults on a church service."

The Sinn Féin man said blame lay with a group of drunken thugs who don't even live in Randalstown and who have been causing problems within the nationalist community for some while. He called on McCrea and his colleagues to work together with other political groupings to deal with the anti-social element that has terrorised Randalstown and the surrounding area. "I asked for a civic forum to be set up in the Antrim Borough Council area to discus such behaviour, I did not get one political party to support me," said Meehan.

Meehan calls for release of weapon details

The gun used by the UDA to kill teenager Gerard Lawlor in North Belfast last month has been linked to the UDA killing of Sam Rocket, who had UVF connections, during the loyalist feud in August 2000.

It has been speculated that 'C company' of the UDA from the Lower Shankill area killed Gerard Lawlor as he walked home at midnight on Sunday 21 July.

Sinn Féin councillor for Newtownabbey, Breige Meehan, is calling on the RUC\PSNI to release the forensic history of the weapon to establish "who exactly was behind the killing".

UVF member Rocket (22) was killed as he visited his girlfriend´s Oldpark home during the loyalist feud. The killing was thought to be the UDA's response to the killings of senior UDA man Jackie Coulter. A second loyalist, Bobby Mahood, who ironically had UVF connections, was killed with Coulter.

"Everyone knows that the RUC Special Branch run the Shankill UDA and it appears they are suppressing information about this gun," said Meehan. "It would be interesting to see what other attacks have been carried out with this weapon".

Sectarian assaults in Derry

Waterside Sinn Fein councillor Lynn Fleming has condemned two sectarian attacks in Derry.

At around 6am on Friday 9 August, a 22-year-old Protestant man was attacked at Wapping Street on the edge of the Fountain Estate by up to five youths.

The young man´s mother said the attack was sectarian and that his attackers called him an "Orange bastard" as they kicked and beat him. He was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital, were he received five stitches to one eye and two to the other.

In a second, serious sectarian attack in Derry, a 15-year-old Catholic boy was attacked by a group of nine men and women. The incident happened outside Harberton House in the Waterside area of Derry as the boy made his way to his friends house at around 1am on Saturday, 10 August. The boy was struck in the face with a bottle then was kicked in the face before the gang stamped repeatedly on his head.

He too was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital, but Lynn Fleming said the boy could have died if he had not been found. "These attacks are totally and absolutely wrong, carried out by mindless thugs who don't represent anybody. Every person is entitled to walk and live freely wherever they want."

Undercover surveillance in West Belfast

An undercover British soldier in full combat uniform was observed getting into a blue Hiace van on Monday 12 August near the Kennedy Centre in West Belfast.

The van, driven by a woman, was seen driving into the Kennedy complex on the Andersontown Road at around 10am, where it parked near undergrowth facing the Toymaster store.

The driver got out of the van and opened the back door of the vehicle. At this point a man, believed to be a British soldier dressed in combat clothing, was seen emerging from the undergrowth and getting into the back of the van. He was carrying a grip bag. His female accomplice closed the door quickly and drove away at speed.

Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Maskey said local people went to check the scene and found the undergrowth from where the figure came had been flattened, indicating that he had been there for some time.

"We know that covert operations have been going on in West Belfast for some time now, with the following of certain individuals. But as the Crown forces and the loyalist death squads are inextricability linked, I urge people to be extremely vigilant," said Maskey.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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