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30 September 1999 Edition

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``Get out or be put out'' - UVF

``This is no idle threat - get out or be put out. We have done it before and we will do it again. You have two weeks to put up a for sale sign. The police cannot protect you 24 hours. There is no second chance''

This was the chilling message delivered by post to four Catholic families on the Neillsbrook estate in Randalstown, County Antrim and signed by the UVF on Tuesday 21 September. The threats have left the families, some of whom have lived on the estate for almost 30 years, terrified and unable to think of any reason for the intimidation except that they are Catholics.

The estate itself is mixed, with a ratio of about 50/50 between nationalists and unionists. However, as Sinn Féin's South Antrim representative Martin Meehan explained: ``Nationalists are living under extreme provocation. The walls are adorned with loyalist murals, the kerbstones are painted red, white and blue and UVF flags fly from the lamp-posts''.

The PUP's representative in the South Antrim area, Ken Wilkinson, responded to Martin Meehan by denying that the threat came from the UVF and emphasised his own role in cross community work.

Meehan responded: ``Loyalists have merely been paying lip service in speaking out against sectarianism. Their actions privately on the ground contradict what they are saying. It was only a few weeks ago that Ken Wilkinson said that the UVF will not stand idly by and see Randalstown turned into a republican enclave.''

In a separate development, a family intimidated out of Antrim town earlier this year have returned in defiance of local loyalists. The family, including three children, fled the town after their father became the target of a local loyalist commander. This culminated in the well-known loyalist breaking down the family's door and beating the young father in front of his wife and children before ordering him out of the country.

One family friend said: ``Everyone is sickened by the barbaric treatment of this family by a thug with a personal grudge''.

Three other families have been forced to leave the town after falling foul of UVF-backed loan sharks. It is believed that people borrowing from these loan sharks are being charged an interest rate of 50%. If the loan is not repaid in time the interest rate is doubled. This can often culminate in vicious beatings by UVF-backed gangs.

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