8 June 2000 Edition
A lucky escape
BY LAURA FRIEL
The fact that a young West Belfast man beaten by a loyalist gang describes himself as `lucky' says a lot about the level of sectarian violence routinely endured by northern nationalists.
In the early hours of Sunday, 4 June, he was walking along Blacks Road in the loyalist enclave of Suffolk towards the Stewartstown Road. The West Belfast man noticed a two groups of about 20 men in all. ``Someone came up from behind me. He shouted `you fenian bastard' and struck me across the right side of my face.'' As the victim staggered from the blow, the assailant repeatedly hit him about the head. ``I fell to the ground where I was kicked in the ribs.''
Loyalist gangs routinely gather along the Blacks Road particularly at the weekend. It's a short distance from the Balmoral Hotel, a Catholic-owned business on the outskirts of the loyalist Suffolk estate, to the Catholic housing estate of Lenadoon.
It is a notorious spot for sectarian attacks. Most Catholics enjoying an evening out at the Balmoral avoid the 400-yard walk and take a taxi into nationalist West Belfast rather than risk sectarian attack along Blacks Road. ``I was lucky,'' he says, ``I was conscious and able to get back up on my feet.'' Before the gang could gather around him, he fled. ``Woodbourne RUC barracks stands at the top of Blacks Road,'' he says, ``yet despite the amount of surveillance in the immediate area, loyalists appear to think they can attack Catholics with impunity.''
Loyalists attack GAA supporters
An orchestrated sectarian attack against GAA supporters travelling home from the Tyrone/Armagh championship last Sunday could have ended in tragedy, said the driver of a stoned bus.
In a planned ambush, loyalists in Portadown dragged a pallet across the road at Northway forcing vehicles travelling back to Lurgan to slow down. In one of several incidents, a bus driver was injured when a brick was hurled at him, smashing one of the vehicle's windows. A number of passengers were showered with glass during the attack.
A passenger described how the injured driver had managed to ``keep on driving and got us out of it''. There were 16 people, including several children, in the bus at the time of the attack.
In another incident, two cars travelling along the same route and carrying four women and six children were stoned. One woman from Lurgan said her sister's car was attacked and the windscreen smashed.
Red Hand Defenders threaten Lurgan republicans
Three republicans from Lurgan in North Armagh are under serious threat from loyalist killer gangs, according to Sinn Féin assembly member Dara O'Hagan.
``On Saturday night, 3 June, the RUC went to the doors of the three men and told them a threat, issued in the name of the Red Hand Defenders, had been phoned in through the Samaritans,'' said O'Hagan, who represents the Upper Bann constituency. ``According to the information we have, an authenticated code word was used''. O'Hagan added that the RUC told one of the men, ``this is serious this time''.
One of those threatened told An Phoblacht that in the past number of weeks he has been followed and believes loyalists are targeting him.
In a further development, one of the targeted republican wasthreatened by the RUC on Monday 5 June. He was driving past a parked RUC vehicle when one of three RUC men standing at the side of the vehicle formed his hands into the shape of a gun and made a shooting gesture. When the man approached the RUC man and asked him about his gesture, the RUC men got in the car and drove off.
Dara O'Hagan said the incident ``demonstrates just how unacceptable the RUC is to nationalists. This is all the more sinister given that just 48 hours earlier, the RUC had told the man of a very serious threat to his life issued by the Red Hand Defenders''.
Sectarian attack targets tourists
International visitors touring the north of Ireland were targeted in a sectarian attack when their vehicles were destroyed by fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The back packing tourists were evacuated from their hostel when three minibuses and a car parked outside were set alight. All four vehicles carried southern Irish registrations.
The tourists from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States were staying overnight at the Linen House Hostel in Kent Street, close to the loyalist Shankill Road. Around 150 guests were evacuated to the nearby Catholic parochial hall where they stayed for 30 minutes while the blaze was brought under control.
The total cost of the damage is estimated at around £150,000. A dismayed driver said he had only recently begun leaving the vehicles outside the hostel because he believed it was ``fairly safe''.