6 March 2003 Edition
Sectarian attacks escalate in Antrim
A Catholic family of four was attacked by a gang of known UDA men in the Castle shopping centre in the middle Antrim Town at around 2.30pm on Saturday 1 March, in what Sinn Fein councillor Martin Meehan described as a "brutal" incident.
The father of the family told An Phoblacht that he was shopping in the Castle shopping centre with his wife and two children, the youngest aged 20 months, when they were followed by a group of loyalists wearing Glasgow Rangers football shirts and scarfs.
"It was very scary, the loyalists kept shouting at us that Taigs were not allowed in Antrim Town. I tried to ignore them, but they started scuffling with other Catholics shoppers." A number of people, including a second man and his family, were followed outside the shopping centre by the loyalist gang and attacked. During the incident, the loyalists shouted sectarian abuse.
The man received a split lip during the disturbances, while a young boy had his hand broken when loyalists set upon him in the car park. Two other teenagers received cuts and bruises.
An eyewitness said the loyalists "were grown men, not teenagers or youths". According to other witnesses, the PSNI arrived and threatened Catholic shoppers with arrest if they did not move on.
"The PSNI are a joke because at one stage one of the gang was shouting out that he was a member of the UDA yet the PSNI threatened us with arrest and ignored what the loyalists were doing," said one of the eyewitnesses.
On Tuesday 4 March, a grandmother, her daughter and baby granddaughter were threatened by a gang of around six loyalists as she tried to collect her pension at the Post Office in the Castle Centre.
"They shouted that we were warned on Saturday not to come back to the Centre and we were not allowed in Antrim town and should not come back," she said. "I reported this incident to the Centre manager, who told me she will report it to the PSNI, but as yet it has not been reported to anyone.
"Everyone knows the UDA are behind these attacks, the PSNI know who they are, I am sure there are many shoppers in Antrim town asking how these UDA thugs can continue in these sectarian attacks unhindered by the PSNI."
Sinn Féin South Antrim councillor Martin Meehan says he has received numerous complaints from people in Antrim who say they have been attacked by members of the UDA. He has called for the footage of the CCTV cameras to be made public and for those responsible to be held accountable.
Meehan added that hundreds of Catholic families have fled Antrim to escape the escalating campaign of loyalists attacks since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
In the last two years, there have been six sectarian killings in the South Antrim area.
In the five-year period since April 1998, a total of 189 households have received intimidation status for rehousing across the Antrim district.
In the three-year period from April 1999 to April 2002, a total of 45 applications have been made by homeowners under the Housing Executive's Special Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings, (SPED) scheme.
Sinn Féin says nearly 70 families have been intimidated out of the Stiles and Steeples estates by threats and attacks orchestrated by the UDA.
In October last a delegation headed by Martin Meehan, presented a dossier detailing unionist paramilitary violence in the South Antrim area to NIO Security Minister Jane Kennedy.
In the past week, sectarian thugs targeted a Catholic church at Aldergrove near Belfast's International airport. St James's church was daubed with the words "Taigs Beware". The church was burnt down in the past by unionist paramilitaries. Orange Volunteer graffiti was also daubed on signs welcoming visitors to the mainly Catholic village of Crumlin in County Antrim.
More threats against Catholic workers
A Catholic postman from North Belfast is the latest Royal Mail worker to receive a death threat from unionist paramilitaries. A live round of ammunition was sent to him in the post at the Mallusk sorting office, where he works.
This latest death threat follows series of threats against mail workers, including one issued last month against a postman and two managers at the main Tomb Street office.
In the latest incident, a North Belfast postman received a death threat just hours after a Protestant co-worker was suspended for making sectarian comments.
The man received a letter signed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by the UDA, containing a threat to his life and the bullet.
The man said he was considering leaving his job at the Mallusk office as he no longer felt safe and is constantly watching over his shoulder.
"If the Post office continues to allow this behaviour to continue there will not be a happy ending as three different men have been threatened over the past few weeks," he said.
Meanwhile, an Ardoyne man who was threatened along with two managers at Belfast's Tomb Street sorting office is still on special leave after he complained that he endured vicious taunts from a workmate about postman Danny McColgan, who was killed by the UDA last year.
The man responsible was later suspended and Protestant and Catholic post workers in the office at Tomb Street say they will strike if he is reinstated.