13 February 2003 Edition
UDA Business as usual in North Belfast
BY AINE NÍ BHRIAN
Having temporarily sorted out their internal squabbles, unionist paramilitaries are celebrating by returning to what they do best - attacking nationalists.
On the evening of Saturday 8 February, at approximately 9.30pm, a mob of 30-40 unionist paramilitaries emerged from Halliday's Road in the Tiger's Bay estate wearing balaclavas and descended on the nationalist Newington Street area.
The crowd began by chasing several young Catholic girls who had the misfortune to be walking home at the time. The children, realizing they could not get past the mob to their families, ran for their lives back in the direction they had come, completely terrified. Fortunately, they were able to make it to safety.
The mob then continued to bombard the area with more than 20 petrol bombs, rocks, bricks and bottles, before lobbing a series of pipe bombs.
Debris from one device struck a pregnant mother who, on hearing the commotion, had left her home to find her other children.
"I heard a massive bang," said the 34-year-old woman, "and there were petrol bombs being thrown. I didn't see anybody on the road because I couldn't see from where I was standing. Being pregnant, there's no way I would go down that far.
"I saw a neighbour run by. The movement caught my eye and I turned my head slightly. There was a bang and I felt a whack at the back of my head. I wasn't so much knocked out as pushed. I felt no pain at first; it was just as if someone had pushed me by the head and knocked me down to the ground.
"As soon as I stood up the blood started gushing from the wound and I started throwing up. Then I felt this stinging pain and was really, really sick, and all I could think about was that I am pregnant.
"I lost my last baby. I have three other children and when we lived on Newington Avenue I found out I was pregnant again. Our home then was being attacked on a regular basis. I don't know whether that affected my pregnancy or not but I lost the baby at eight weeks.
"So when this happened I wasn't really worried about my head as much as my baby. I didn't know that I was in shock. I was shaking, felt dizzy and nauseous. The pain spread across my head to my neck and ear. Someone called an ambulance but they couldn't get the bandage to stick around my head."
The injured woman was treated in hospital where she received several staples in her head to close the wound. She was then released and is still recovering.
Her family eventually abandoned their original home on Newington Avenue, after their 11-year-old son was hit in the face by an acid bomb thrown by unionists.
"We moved to this house because we thought it was safer. There are a lot of decent people in Tiger's Bay and God help them because of what has moved in since the very first feud back in 1999. You wouldn't want to live that way at all.
"The UDA is hell bent on starting trouble. Everyone knew that once they sorted out their feud they would turn their attention back to Catholics."
Two of the children chased on Saturday night are already reluctant veterans of unionist violence.
Twelve-year old Nadine and her friend Sinead were playing ball outside their homes in October 2001, under the watchful eye of Sinead's father. A pipe bomb was lobbed over the houses, striking Nadine in the chest before exploding at her feet. A second pipe bomb followed but before it went off, Sinead's father reached them.
Sinead's mother emerged to see her daughter lying limp in her father's arms. Both children were rushed to hospital. Sinead had a piece of copper shrapnel embedded in her back and Nadine had friction marks on her chest, ringing in her ears and difficulty breathing. Both were in shock.
Back then, Nadine had vividly recalled an attack on her home only weeks before she was struck by the pipe bomb. She had been inside sitting on a sofa when a blast bomb was thrown into her back yard. The force of the blast threw the child to the floor.
"I'm not safe anywhere," she said in 2001. "I'm not safe in my house and I'm not safe in the street."
More than a year later, nothing much has changed for Nadine or her neighbours.
Before they disappeared back into the darkness they had come from, unionist paramilitaries fired shots up the road at emerging residents. By the time the PSNI arrived on the scene, they saw nothing except beleaguered nationalists nervously standing vigil on street corners.
The next morning, local nationalists were on Newington Street checking the area to make sure it was safe and free of any explosive devices. At that time there was no danger but later the same afternoon a large pipe bomb was found in an area which had previously been clear.
"It was a large device," said a local resident, "maybe nine inches long and an inch in circumference. The British Army was called and immediately cleared the whole area, saying that it seemed to be a live device."
The entire area was sealed off for two hours while the army defused the weapon. But the UDA was not finished. Later that night, at approximately 10.45pm, upwards of six petrol bombs were thrown from the loyalist Halliday's Road area towards the nationalist Park End.
"They just came out, threw the petrol bombs and vanished again," said a resident. "The PSNI returned and just stayed for about five minutes and then drove away."
Nationalist residents point out that the street lamps that line the road in the area are never on, leaving the area blanketed in darkness and allowing unionists to move up the road unobserved or obscured by shadow. CCTV cameras haven't been a deterrent either, having done nothing to prevent further sectarian attacks.
Loyalist death threats
The Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey and Sinn Féin Councillor Martin Meehan are among 40 people who have been approached by the PSNI and told that their details are in the hands of unionist paramilitaries.
Maskey was told his details were discovered on a computer disc seized after raids in loyalist districts.
School bus windows broken by mob
A ten-strong loyalist mob made up of members of the UDA's youth wing, the Ulster Young Militants, attacked a school bus carrying pupils from St Malachy's High school close to the Birch Hill Road in Antrim Town on Monday 10 February.
In the attack, carried out at about 3.20pm as pupils were returning home, bottles and stones were hurled at the bus. A number of windows were broken during the attack and one schoolboy was treated at the nearby Antrim Area Hospital for cuts.
Now angry parents are demanding that something is done before the situation gets out of control.
Sinn Féin's Martin McManus, who lives near the school, said that this was a carbon copy of what had happened last year. He added that loyalists had gathered near the Catholic school gates on Tuesday, the day after the bus attack, threatening and taunting the Catholic school children as they made their way home.