9 July 1998 Edition
Sean O Tuama describes the harassment and attacks as eighty cars resupplied the Garvaghy residents
The humanitarian aid convoy from Belfast to the residents of the Garvaghy estate in Portadown was due to depart from the Falls Community Council at 10am on Friday 10 July.
But such had been the generosity of the people of Belfast that it took almost an hour longer to pack the donated food, clothes, medical supplies and toys into the eighty vehicles involved.
The convoy eventually left with over four hundred people, including residents, community workers and international observers. It had been organised by the Belfast Concerned Community whose chairperson is Gerry McConville.
The mood of the convoy jovial but tinged with the realisation that our reception approaching Portadown could be less than friendly.
We were not wrong.
The convoy was stopped on the Dungannon Road by a gang of RUC men and British troops mounting a checkpoint beneath a Union Jack which fluttered from a telegraph pole.
The twenty RUC were in full riot gear while four landrovers were backed up with two British jeeps. Overhead three Chinooks helicopters flew. The RUC alleged they were stopping the convoy to carry out a random search because part of one of their `stingers' (a vehicle immobiliser) had gone missing.
Part of this `search' included ordering the driver of a large van to unload all the boxes. When this was done, an RUC man merely glanced at the assembled boxes, did not open them, said ``alright'' and walked off.
Dara O'Hagan, the Sinn Fein Assembly member for Upper Bann, said the RUC action was ``ridiculous''. She said ``it is an absolute disgrace that this community is placed under siege in the first instance. The inaction of the RUC in stopping Orangemen and loyalists, some carrying bombs, from gathering at Drumcree is in stark contrast to the treatment of those bringing humanitarian aid to this beleaguered community.''
During the search the RUC confiscated a toy baseball bat and two hammers. The latter items were to be used for a children's activity weekend being organised by the Garvaghy residents.
After over half an hour the convoy was allowed to continue but was stopped again at St John's chapel, at a checkpoint further along the Dungannon Road. This time there was no `search', each vehicle was stopped and then casually waved through.
The convoy was met with cheers and applause from the residents as it made its way along the Garvaghy Road and into the nationalist estate to the community centre.
However, as the front of the convoy reached the centre word came back that the end of the convoy was being attacked by loyalists. Immediately residents and those in the vehicles ran back along the road to give assistance.
Around twenty loyalists had attacked the last half dozen cars with bricks and cudgels. Fortunately, the swift action of convoy stewards in telling drivers to just drive on through the RUC checkpoint ensured that only minor injuries were sustained by three women. The loyalists ran off when they saw the approaching throng from the Garvaghy estate. The crown forces stood idly by during the attack.
It took over an hour and a half to unload the supplies into the community centre. But such was the volume of the provisions that some of it had to be ferried to another venue as the community centre was not large enough to hold it all.
The residents kindly provided sandwiches and refreshments to their visitors which were much appreciated.
One resident, who did not wish to be named, told me of the nightly attacks and taunts the residents had to endure at the Obins Street side of the estate. Loyalists had hurled bricks and bottles over the wall which separated the nationalist area from the surrounding loyalist estate. Nevertheless, the mood of the Garvaghy residents, although tense, was resolute, he said.
It was decided that the convoy would take an alternative route out of the estate to avoid another loyalist attack. But this was blocked by three British army vehicles which forced the convoy to leave via its original route. There was thus an air of tension among the drivers and passengers as we drove back along the Garvaghy Road.
The tension travelling out of the Garvaghy estate was eased by the supportive cheers and applause of the residents waving us good-bye, including a white haired, middle aged man who gave us the `thumbs up' whilst brandishing an orange, yellow and pink banner emblazoned with the logo ``The Gay Foundation''.
The return journey passed off without incident, except for two RUC patrol cars which followed the convoy all the way back to Belfast.
The courage and fortitude of those who organised, participated in and contributed to this convoy are a shining symbol of the nationalist people of the north's belief that Orange might shall never be right.
Death squads supported Orange protests
The appearance of known LVF men wearing orange collarettes at the Orange Order's violent standoff at Drumcree last week is no isolated incident. The filming of a loyalist gunman, under the glare of an RUC spotlight, as he calmly shot at the crown forces indicates that these gangs are happy to take on the mantle of military wing of the Orange Order.
Even the RUC have admitted that these gangs have been responsible for co-ordinating attacks on them and the British army.
The blast bomb thrown by loyalists at Drumcree last Thursday, which injured four RUC officers, was a new design similar to ones seized by crown forces in North Belfast the previous afternoon. The RUC said they were worried about this find because it showed ``organisational planning on the part of one group at least.'' Namely the UDA.
On Tuesday 7 July senior UDA men were engaged in Orange Order protests in the city and LVF members were spotted in Ligoniel in North Belfast, shortly after gunfire was heard. Earlier in the evening trees were felled across roads leading in and out of the estate, and cudgel-wielding loyalists mounted checkpoints to seal the nationalist residents into their area.
In Ballymoney, just days before the slaughter of the Quinn brothers, Catholics in the area received cards which read: `UVF, get out, get out'. Many of the areas where the RUC and British army came under gun and blast bomb attack are UDA strongholds.
In the most concerted fire bombings, in Carrickfergus, it is widely acknowledged to have been the work of the UDA, although that gang's participation in attacks has dwindled because their prisoners complained to the leadership. They were worried that they may lose out on the early release scheme promised in the Good Friday document.
Although the Orange protest at Drumcree now seems to be petering out, the future `ceasefires' of these death squads is still in serious doubt. It would therefore be prudent for nationalists across the north to remain alert.
Gun attack wounds three
Besieged for over a week the small nationalist enclave of Ligoniel on the outskirts of North Belfast felt the full force of Orangeism in the early hours of last Friday morning when three local men were shot and wounded by a loyalist gunman.
The attack took place just after 3am after a loyalist mob, which had been taunting nationalist residents, approached the first Catholic houses on the Ligoniel Road shouting, ``come on you Fenian bastards, get out before we burn you out''. A small group of residents had gathered to protect the pensioners' houses and the Catholic chapel. Three loyalists left the main group, around 40 in all, two came up one side of the road, while a third took up a position beside thick hedges at St Mark's church and opened fire with a handgun, hitting three Ligoniel men. The loyalists fled back towards the upper Crumlin Road.
Two of those wounded were hit in the legs while a third was grazed in the side. The men were treated on the spot by local nurses before ambulances arrived and took them to hospital. Two were subsequently released while the third remains in the Royal Victoria hospital.
Angry at the behaviour of the RUC who had just minutes before the shooting been harassing the same groups of residents, locals revealed that an RUC jeep and red Transit van had actually driven down the Ligoniel Road and must have passed both the loyalist mob and the gunman.
Local SF councillor Mick Conlon, meanwhile, hit out at the continued loyalist blockade around Ligoniel and urged locals to be cautious when confronted by loyalists.
``Given how this loyalist operated with ease we should take it that any similar mob could contain gunmen. Every praise must go to these three residents, who by their presence on the ground prevented their neighbours homes being firebombed. We must remain vigilant over the days and weeks ahead''.
Residents in the beleaguered Ligoniel estate had earlier that day received food supplies, brought into the area by Sinn Fein North Belfast Assembly representative Gerry Kelly and other community relief workers.
On Sunday afternoon North Belfast community activist Anthony Barnes was visiting a sick relative in the casualty unit of the Mater Hospital when he was chased by Orange Order marchers as they walked down the Crumlin Road. After a frantic scramble through the floors and corridors of the hospital Barnes (spokesperson for the coalition of nationalist residents groups opposed to the Orange `Tour of the North' march last month) only escaped after getting assistance from hospital workers.
Speaking later Barnes hit out at the Orange invasion of a hospital. ``These loyalists rushed away from their illegal march when they spotted me as I waited for a taxi. Their behaviour in the hospital shocked many, both patients and staff and I would like to thank those who assisted me and got me away to safety''.
Kilkeel attacks lasted seven hours
Violent attacks against Catholic homes and businesses went unabated for seven hours in the South Down town of Kilkeel on Friday 10 July following what the media described as an ``impromptu parade'' which had taken place through the town earlier.
The Catholic owned Riverside Bar was firebombed by loyalist rioters causing extensive damage to the upstairs lounge. This was the latest in a series of attacks on the premises over the past four years.
The owner, Eamon Cunningham, said he had been targeted a number of times and as recently as last week the bar was attacked by youths who smashed a number of downstairs windows. ``But this was the worst one to date,'' he said. Cunningham had asked his customers to leave at around 11pm for their own safety. He was then contacted by the RUC at around 3:30am after the bar was attacked but was advised not to go into town because it was too dangerous.
Other Catholic owned businesses in Newry Street were also targeted, including the Archways Bar and Interflora shop, causing minor damage.