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20 March 2003 Edition

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Interface violence marks St Patrick's weekend

An upsurge in sectarian anti-Catholic violence by unionist paramilitaries in interface areas throughout the Six Counties over the course of the St Patrick's Day weekend appeared to follow a distinct pattern.

Nationalist neighbourhoods in Belfast came under attack by unionist paramilitaries in four interface areas last Saturday and Sunday. Incidents occurred at Alliance Avenue in Ardoyne, the Limestone Road in the Newington area, the Short Strand and the Longlands estate off the Whitewell Road.

Although the violence took place in several different areas, the timing implied a carefully orchestrated plan of harassment and intimidation by unionist paramilitaries.

"Houses were stoned on Alliance Avenue on Sunday morning," said Sinn Fein Councillor Margaret McClenaghan, "and that turned into a sustained period of bottle throwing. The trouble then moved on to the Whitewell and Limestone. It broke out in three areas within a couple of hours."

The methodology of the attacks was remarkably similar as well.

Younger members of unionist paramilitary groups were first sent in to nationalist neighbourhoods to attack homes and draw out residents. "They break windows, or attack residents or their homes with bricks, bottles, fireworks, and rocks," said a resident.

When nationalist residents emerged in response, unionists set off their own "warning" sirens and within minutes, adult males appeared from the surrounding unionist area. They went on to mount more serious attacks. Over the last weekend, unionist paramilitaries have beaten nationalist with bats and hammers, attacked an ambulance trying to reach injured nationalists, and thrown petrol or pipe and blast bombs.

The PSNI's actions in response to the violence was also suspect. They were almost always slow to arrive on the scene, and sometimes failed to respond at all. In one recent incident in the Short Strand, two unexploded blast bombs were left sitting on the road for three quarters of an hour before crown forces finally arrived to defuse them.

Often when the PSNI did appear, they remained in their vehicles. They also refused to talk to nationalist residents or address their concerns.

In two incidents, the PSNI used their Land Rovers to mount footpaths and drive agressively into gathered nationalist crowds. People in the crowd, which included women and children, were forced to jump over walls and hedges to avoid being struck.

The PSNI also allowed their Land Rovers to be used by unionist paramilitaries as cover.

While nationalist crowds were being forced back down their own streets by PSNI vehicles or by baton-wielding PSNI officers, projectiles continued to sail over the Land Rovers from the unionist crowds behind them.

Local people said the PSNI did nothing to push these unionist mobs back. Instead, the PSNI allowed them to move towards nationalists. In a serious incident in the Longlands estate, the PSNI prevented ambulances from entering the area to treat several wounded nationalist youths.

Two PSNI vehicles were parked across the Arthur Bridge blocking the road when the ambulance arrived on the scene, and as while the ambulance crew waited for the PSNI vehicles to allow entry to the area, they were set upon by the rioting unionists. One window was smashed and the ambulance driver sustained an eye injury.

This was one of several attacks on ambulance crews this past weekend. Now the Six-County ambulance service is threatening to withdraw services to areas throughout the city if their staff find the risk of personal injury too great.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly deplored the attacks and called for them to stop.

"This sort of mindless violence has to end," he said.

There have been suggestions that both unionist and nationalist youths might be using Old Firm matches as an excuse to start violence at interface areas, but nationalists in interface areas are well aware that unionist paramiltaries need no excuses to instigate violent attacks. "Had there been no match on at all this weekend, violence might still have occurred. Would it have then be blamed on St Patrick's Day?" said a resident.



ARDOYNE/ALLIANCE AVENUE




Saturday 15 March - 10.30am

Rocks and bricks are lobbed over the "peaceline" wall on Alliance Avenue from the unionist Glenbryn estate. Nationalist residents say that the attacks began without any warning and that the police response was minimal.

"We rang and they told us they were "maintaining a presence in Glenbryn" and that was the end of it."


Sunday 16 March - 5.30pm-6pm

More bottles and bricks were thrown in an attack that continued for 15 minutes. The PSNI response was the same. This attack is followed by trouble on the Limestone Road.


LIMESTONE RD/TIGERS BAY




Sunday 16 March - 7pm

A group of 30-40 adult unionist paramilitaries pelt the Limestone road with petrol bombs thrown from Alexander Park. Twice unionists sound their "alarm" siren - trying to make it appear they are under attack.

PSNI arrive on the scene and refuse to speak with nationalist community leaders. They remain in their vehicles and attempt to hit several people by driving at gathered crowds on the footpaths. Women and children narrowly miss being struck.

The PSNI then proceed down the road and speak to Tigers Bay community representative Eddie McClean and known UDA men on the scene. Later, PSNI Land Rovers are used as cover by unionist attackers. The PSNI does not intervene to stop the attacks.

At this point there is a group of 70-80 adult unionist paramilitaries on the scene. British troops arrive and their commander addresses nationalist representatives. They tell him to pull his forces out of the area, that things are calming and the British presense is only adding to the tension. The British commander complied and calm is finally restored.

This attack is said to have followed trouble on the Whitewell Road.


WHITEWELL/LONGLANDS




Saturday 15 March - Midnight

Two unionist youths shout "Up the UFF" as they attack homes in Longland Court. They smashed the front windows of several homes with bricks, narrowly missing residents inside, and then run back across the Arthur bridge to the White City estate.

The PSNI is called and is very slow in responding.


Sunday 16 March - Approx 5pm


After the Celtic/Rangers match, British Army jeeps try to run down young people between the ages of 8-15 in Bawnmore. Bricks and bottles are thrown. Four PSNI Land Rovers arrive with crown forces in full riot gear and but no one is arrested.


6pm

Two young men are attacked and beaten by unionists with iron bars and hammers underneath a CCTV camera.

Within 10-15 minutes of that attack, up to 50 unionist paramilitaries rush over the Arthur bridge to attack the nationalist Longlands Court. Eight nationalist residents who come out to defend their homes and neighbours face them down, and hand-to-hand fighting breaks out on the bridge. During the scuffle, unionists injure three nationalist men, hitting them with hammers and baseball bats.

When the PSNI arrive on the scene they ignore unionist rioters and instead push nationalists back on to their own streets. Unionists continued to attack with bricks and bottles, using PSNI Land Rovers as cover.

When an ambulance arrives, the PSNI roadblock prevents them from attending to the injured in Longlands. The ambulance is attacked by unionists and the driver recieves an eye injury.

Nationalists who complain to the PSNI are beaten with batons. When they are finally repulsed from Longlands, unionist paramilitaries turn their attention to smashing the windows of private homes along the Whitewell Road and attack a mixed school.

Three nationalists are hospitalized. Two are released with staples to their heads and a third remains in hospital with a broken jaw and head wounds


SHORT STRAND




Sunday 16 March - late afternoon


St Matthew's Church in the Short Strand comes under attack during the televised football match. Golf balls and other projectiles are lobbed at the chapel from the Lower Newtownards Road.


7 pm

A blast bomb is thrown into St Matthew's from the unionist Susan Street. As it is now dark, nationalist residents are unable to locate where it landed, but debris from the device is later found and picked up by residents.


11 pm

The UDA, obscured by fog, sets off a large explosion in Strand Walk in OAP housing. They throw three blast bombs into the area. One explodes and does severe damage to a bungalow. Two other devices land on the road but do not explode.

Residents evacuate pensioners from the bungalows. Crown forces are slow to respond. The two unexploded devices lie in Strand Walk for three quarters of an hour before being defused by the British Army.

It is 2am before the bomb squad pulls out of the area and residents remain on alert for the remainder of the night. There are occassional outbreaks of bricks and bottles being thrown from the unionist side.
GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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