16 November 2000 Edition

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Human rights gathering

Speaking before a packed public meeting on human rights held in the Millbrook Lodge Hotel outside Ballynahinch, County Down, Sinn Féin spokesperson Francie Braniff called for a ``central strategy to tackle human rights abuses in Ballynahinch''.

According to the Sinn Féin man, ``sectarianism has long been associated with the town and any long term solution lies in addressing its causes''. Braniff called for residents' and community groups, voluntary organisations, statutory agencies, religious leaders and politicians to work together to resolve the sectarianism faced by nationalists in the town.

Slating the RUC, who have stood by while nationalists were attacked, particularly during the summer, Braniff said: ``The increase in attacks over the summer were compounded by the RUC, who watched as loyalists went on the rampage. The town centre is almost a no-go area for Catholics.''

On 6 August a Catholic man narrowly escaped death when he was set upon by loyalists who slashed him with a meat cleaver. In another case, a woman whose car was attacked was threatened and assaulted by loyalists, who she recognised. She reported the incident to the RUC, but they refused to follow up her complaint.

Ironically, the conference, organised by Sinn Féin, ended up being held in the Millbrook Lodge after the local priest, Fr McCrory refused to allow it to be held in the parish hall. In an announcement from the altar on Saturday 4 November, he withdrew his permission, saying that he had done so after ``representations from concerned residents''. Sinn Féin councillor Aiden Carlin believes it was pressure from local SDLP members that forced the priest's hand.

Speaking at the conference, solicitor Niall Murphy from Madden and Finucane solicitors called for a human rights culture. ``It is what we deserve'', he said. ``Human rights are not a privilege.''

Joe McVeigh pointed out that whatever human rights nationalists have attained for themselves in the north ``came about through struggle. They didn't come out of thin air''. He criticised the Catholic Church which, he said, were ``no defenders of civil or human rights''.

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