Issue 4-2022 small

26 April 2001 Edition

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Yaba daba doo, Any excuse will do


Here we go again. Armed and masked UDA gangs roaming the streets of North Belfast peddling the lie that they are under attack and threatening to revisit the bloody sectarian pogroms of 30 years ago upon the nationalist community. And we've seen it and heard it all before.

Nationalists living in North and West Belfast are desperately short of housing, which only a comprehensive programme of new building can begin to address, but until the sectarian boundaries of loyalist violence are challenged, they are also landlocked
Remember last year? UDA leader Johnny Adair strutted his stuff while masked loyalists, brandishing both weapons and lies, accused northern nationalists of ``ethnic cleansing''. Nationalists were engaged in ``a systematic and orchestrated campaign of intimidation'' claimed the UDA and it ``will not be allowed to happen''.

Of course it never was happening. And within hours the lie was exposed when the Housing Executive released statistics which confirmed that the only families being intimidated and forced to flee from their homes in West and North Belfast were Catholics.

Ten months later and we're back to the same old story. ``Places like Tiger's Bay are a ghost town at night, no one wants to go out of their doors for fear of attack,'' claimed a UDA leader, attempting to account for the nightly appearance of armed loyalists on the edge of the nationalist New Lodge.

``I'd rather not send men out onto the streets like this,'' said the UDA leader, ``but the people of Tiger's Bay demand that we do this to protect them.'' And so the nonsense continues. But while myth informs the premise, the loyalist threat is both real and relentless.

Less than three weeks ago, 51-year-old Mary Campbell was beaten unconscious and left for dead by two loyalists from Tiger's Bay who attacked the Catholic grandmother with pickaxes outside her New Lodge home. Mary was returning home when the loyalist gang, travelling in a silver car, drove into the area. She survived only after two hours of emergency surgery to remove pieces of bone from her brain.

Thirty minutes earlier in a nearby street, 14-year-old John Madden was badly beaten by the same pickaxe-wielding gang. The schoolboy suffered injuries to his head and face, a fractured arm and three broken fingers. John escaped more serious injury when the gang abandoned the attack after being disturbed by local people.

A few days earlier, in the mistaken belief that he was a Catholic, a 49-year-old electrician from North Belfast, Thomas Lowry, was beaten to death by loyalists. As with the other attacks, the loyalist gang drove around looking for a potential target. All three attacks have been linked to the Ulster Young Militants, an offshoot of the UDA.

In February, a Catholic family of five living in Upper Meadow Street in the New Lodge miraculously escaped death and injury when a pipe bomb was thrown through their front living room window.

The explosion ripped interior doors away from their hinges as a fireball swept through the house just moments after the family escaped. ``They were trying to murder the whole family,'' said 31-year-old Tony.

A week earlier, another North Belfast family narrowly escaped death and injury when a pipe bomb exploded in the front living room of their Lothair Avenue home, causing extensive damage. The family's eldest son jumped out of the attic window and onto the roof as the whole building rocked with the blast.

According to official statistics, there have been over 40 loyalist pipe bomb attacks within the last four months. Some of the most serious attacks have been against Catholic families living in North Belfast. Since the beginning of the year, scores of Catholics living in North Belfast have been warned that their names and personal details are on a loyalist death list.

And the attacks continue. A fortnight ago, the Alliance Avenue home of a family recently informed that they were being targeted by loyalists was attacked. A loyalist gunman fired six shots into an upstairs window. No one was in the bedroom at the time of the attack. A couple and their four children were staying in the house with relatives after being forced to leave their Westland Road home following repeated loyalist attack.

This week another family, recently rehoused in Ardoyne Road after being intimidated out of their former North Belfast home, were again targeted by loyalists. The family, which includes three children, had been allocated the house just two weeks earlier.

``It was around 6am on Easter Sunday morning,'' says Claire. ``My son heard a noise and we all came downstairs to find the front window smashed.'' The device, which had exploded shattering glass across the front garden, was embedded in the window frame.

The house is one of a dozen newly built homes on the edge of nationalist Ardoyne. Even before construction was complete, the new estate had been repeatedly targeted by loyalist paint bombers, who object to nationalists being housed in what they declare as their ``territory''.

And it was this notion of ``territory'' which was cited by the UDA commander as he sought to justify this week's presence of armed loyalists roaming the streets of North Belfast.

``The New Lodge is supposed to be bursting at the seams and Sinn Féin wants to expand across the peace lines, just so it can get more Catholics into North Belfast,'' said the UDA man. And then in a moment of clarity, the UDA spokesperson revealed his real agenda.

``It is abundantly clear that the support for the peace process is slipping away from loyalist areas like Tiger's Bay. If things go on like this we will be back to the bad old days of the 1970s.''

Last month, the UDA commander believed to have orchestrated the Greysteel ``trick or treat'' massacre in 1993 rejected the peace process and described the `Union' as ``safer during the Troubles''. The UDA leader from Derry told an American newspaper ``there is a time bomb waiting to go off''. Loyalists were primed for attack, with their targets in mind and ``just waiting for the nod''.

Shortly after Catholic Robert Hamill was kicked to death by a sectarian mob in 1997, a loyalist T shirt appeared in Portadown bearing the slogan ``Yaba daba doo, Any taig will do.'' In 2001 in vulnerable nationalist areas like North Belfast, when it comes to sectarian violence, as far as the UDA is concerned, any excuse will do.

One woman's story


Rita is living with a dilemma that is putting her family's lives at risk. She can't stay. She lives under the constant threat of imminent loyalist attack, but she can't go. The house is owner occupied. Rita can't move without selling and she can't sell it either. ``I just couldn't put another Catholic family through this,'' says Rita. ``I couldn't live with someone's death or injury on my conscience.''

So every day, the family lives with the constant fear of loyalist violence, at home, in the garden, in the street outside. On their way to work, on their way to school, on their way to the shops or to visit friends. And every night the family sleep with a fire extinguisher at the top of the stairs. Their story is a depressingly familiar one. ``We've been targeted on and off since we moved here six years ago,'' says Rita, ``but recently it's been much worse.''

When Rita and her husband Chris first saw their Alliance Avenue home, they were very excited. The house was large with a great deal of potential for a young working couple with the skills to improve the property. ``We intended to do a lot of work on the house, build an extension and a garage, modernise the interior,'' says Rita. ``We had great plans.''

The mortgage was reasonable enough, the couple thought, and if they ever decided to sell the family would stand to make a reasonable profit. ``House prices in other parts of Belfast were very high but we could afford this house and the area seemed quiet and the kind of place to raise children,'' says Rita. ``It seemed the perfect solution to our housing needs.''

But Rita's children found they could not play in the back garden. And soon they were too afraid to play in front of their home. Rita's children have been attacked on a number of occasions, most recently a couple of weeks ago.

``My husband and daughter were walking along the Crumlin Road when a crowd of youths started throwing stones at them,'' says Rita. ``Behind the youths were men throwing bricks.''

It's a familiar pattern which is being used throughout North Belfast. During a recent incident in the New Lodge, when stone throwing young loyalists were challenged by local residents, loyalist men armed with baseball bats and petrol bombs launched an attack.

Rita is particularly fearful for her 14-year-old son. ``I'm afraid to let him out and he's always home early,'' says Rita. ``I know he'd get a terrible beating if loyalists ever cornered him alone.'' None of the children's friends ever visit and none can stay over. ``It just isn't safe,'' says Rita.

Early last Sunday morning the family were still sleeping when a crowd of loyalists armed with baseball bats marched up to the front door and smashed the living room window. ``It was 5am,'' says Rita, ``and we heard glass breaking. They smashed the front window and then trashed the car.''

This is the fourth car that has been written off.'' And now Rita is afraid. ``That was the first time they came right up to our front door,'' says Rita. ``Next time will they bring a petrol or pipe bomb?''

``Sectarianism was never an issue with us, my family has a mixed background,'' says Rita, ``but the loyalists have made it an issue and if I don't get my family out of here, my children will become bitter. I can see it happening already.''

But Rita and her family aren't just victims of loyalist violence, they're also the victims of a sectarian housing allocation mechanism which the Housing Executive barely acknowledges and a skewed housing market which forces nationalists wishing to live in areas safe from sectarian harassment to pay extortionate prices.

Public Housing in the North is allocated through a points system that is supposed to reflect housing need. But if a Catholic family requests housing in a safe nationalist area, naturally an area of high demand, then the fact that they have almost no chance of being housed is their own fault. The natural wish to live in a safe area is interpreted by officialdom as a matter of ``choice'', which brings with it an indefinite waiting list or years of hostel accommodation.

Nationalists living in North and West Belfast are desperately short of housing, which only a comprehensive programme of new building can begin to address, but until the sectarian boundaries of loyalist violence are challenged, they are also landlocked. The British government, the NIO and the Housing Executive have consistently failed to address the sectarian agenda of loyalism in relation to housing allocation.

Meanwhile, private housing in safe nationalist areas has soared in price far beyond the intrinsic value of the properties. A three-bedroom house in West Belfast can cost over £100,000, leaving a prospective owner with a mortgage of over £500 a month. In an area of high unemployment and in a low waged economy, for most families buying a home is not an option.

Rita and her family took the third alternative, to buy a house in a less favourable area. The price they have been force to pay, however, is the constant threat of loyalist violence and the dilemma of when to go, where to go and how to go. ``We have to get out now,'' says Rita. ``We can't stay any longer.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1