19 July 2001 Edition
UDA gangs provoke trouble
Trouble again flared in Belfast on Monday night, 16 July, when loyalist gangs attacked both the Short Strand and the small nationalist enclave of Clanchatten Street off the Limestone Road. The trouble on the Limestone Road was orchestrated by the UDA from Tiger's Bay. The UDA was also behind an attack on Duncairn Gardens.
Just last month, the UDA took a security gate off its hinges and attacked up to six houses with paint bombs and bricks. And during the trouble that flared in the Short Strand, loyalists opened fire on nationalists attempting to repair the roofs of pensioners' homes damaged in firebomb attacks the previous night. Up to 20 shots were fired from the small loyalist estate across from Strand Walk.
As the trouble escalated and the RUC and British Army moved in, a second shooting incident occurred, this time the loyalists opening up on the RUC.
Speaking to An Phoblacht about the trouble that erupted in North Belfast at the Limestone Road and Duncairn Gardens, Sinn Féin's Gerard Brophy said that since the Twelfth there had been problems with UDA figures from Tiger's Bay.
``On Sunday night,'' said Brophy, ``gangs of loyalists came out of Tiger's Bay and paint bombed the houses at the end of North Queen Street. There have been ongoing attacks on these houses and the families living there are living in a state of constant fear. This trouble didn't subside until about 3am and some Sinn Féin members who were on the scene were there monitoring the situation until 7am. Then on Monday night, up to 80 loyalists, led by two well known UDA men, came through the gate at Duncairn Gardens and attacked the nearby houses. Some of these houses were only just repaired after last month's attacks.''
Anatomy of a riot
BY LAURA FRIEL
Humanist historian E.P. Thompson argues that sometimes history is so polarised that you have to take sides and suggests that the moral choice favours the marginalised, the poor and oppressed.
It's a view that would most likely be rejected by mainstream journalists working in the north of Ireland, who like to see themselves as neutral observers bringing clarity and understanding to often complicated and confusing situations. This is a worthy aspiration but sadly one that isn't without its own pitfalls. The most striking of these includes the surrender of observer status to the state and the imposition of a notion of `balance' upon the more fundamental notion of `neutral'.
Sectarianism is largely a Protestant phenomenon, the reality that dare not speak its name in the North
Last week witnessed an upsurge in loyalist violence, both across the north and particularly in Belfast. It didn't come out of the blue. For over a year there has been a steady increase in violent activity by loyalist paramilitaries testing the parameters of their so-called ceasefire.
Loyalist targets have been overwhelmingly sectarian, stretching from petty sectarian abuse and harassment of Catholic families living in vulnerable areas and vandalism of Catholic owned property, businesses, chapels and schools to life threatening petrol, pipe and blast bombings and gun attacks.
Despite the reality of the RUC as a discredited pro unionist force with its own particular sectarian baggage and specific current political agenda, the media has often allowed the status of `neutral observer' to be usurped by the RUC
Writing in Ireland on Sunday, Robin Livingstone suggests sectarianism is ``largely a Protestant phenomenon'' and this is ``the reality that dare not speak its name in the North''. Of course, this suppression has not happened accidentally.
Historically, it has suited Britain's agenda to portray conflict in the North of Ireland as a problem between ``two tribes''. Within the media this translates into a notion of `balance'. In practice, this means that reports of violence against Catholics must be reported only in conjunction with evidence of violence against Protestants.
Of course sectarian violence against Protestants does occur and it is equally despicable and can only be utterly condemned but it does not occur so frequently or with such persistent ferocity. So in order to maintain `balance', the media must constantly minimise anti-Catholic violence and ignore its political role in maintaining a sectarian state.
In obscuring the nature of loyalist violence and the violence of a sectarian state, `balance' is far from neutral. And it's a notion that loyalists often use to their own advantage. Loyalist violence is described as `retaliatory' rather than proactive. And when there is nothing to retaliate against, loyalists are very adept at creating it themselves.
Last year, the UDA were caught out after their members attacked a number of Protestant families' homes in a clumsy attempt to provide a spurious context for the UDA's campaign of sectarian violence.
Last week's petrol bomb attack on two Protestant pensioners living near the nationalist Short Strand has been vehemently denied by nationalists and republicans. A few days later a row of pensioners' bungalows on the edge of the nationalist estate were petrol bombed by the UDA.
Throughout all this, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has insisted that the loyalist ceasefires have remained intact and his evaluation has been presented as a matter of fact. Despite the reality of the RUC as a discredited pro unionist force with its own particular sectarian baggage and specific current political agenda, the media has often allowed the status of `neutral observer' to be usurped by the RUC.
In the wake of last Thursday's clash between the RUC riot squad and nationalist residents in Ardoyne, the RUC Chief Constable ``embarked on an early morning round of the radio and television studios to condemn what he described as a pre-planned attack on his officers by republicans''. It had been a ``co-ordinated attempt to injure and even murder'' RUC officers, said Flanagan.
The RUC Chief Constable, reported the British Sunday Times, ``like many of his senior officers, believes that republicans deliberately contrived the battle of Ardoyne in a bid to discredit the RUC on the eve of the Weston talks.'' As if after 50 years of unionist misrule and 30 years of conflict, the RUC had somehow avoided being discredited until last week's confrontation tipped the balance.
``Many believe the violence was aimed specifically at derailing the Good Friday Agreement talks, in which policing was at the hub,'' wrote Chris Ryder and Maurice Chittenden. Many might believe, but the journalists are not convinced and in the end their article isn't convincing either.
Nationalist Ireland, including republicans, has consistently supported the Good Friday Agreement. Unionists have consistently failed to support the implementation of the Agreement, undercut with an extreme oppositional element, even within the Ulster Unionist Party, publicly avowing its commitment to derailment. And even the Sunday Times can't avoid that particular truth.
``Jeffery Donaldson, the uncompromising anti-Agreement Unionist MP, told a Twelfth rally that the talks were a waste of time and he was only reluctantly returning to Weston to prevent an unacceptable deal being made.''
Of course, as the Orangeman's daily, Belfast's Newsletter has cornered the market by avoiding the truth. ``Orchestrated violence on our streets may have a political aim,'' ran Saturday's editorial.
``Sinister and evil forces were at work in Belfast on Thursday night intent on vehemently targeting and maligning the good name of the RUC,'' said the Newsletter.
``The republican mobs who wreaked havoc for up to ten hours in Ardoyne may have masqueraded in the guise of a protest against an Orange Twelfth feeder parade, but clearly the RUC was in their sights as part of the wider Sinn Féin and IRA agenda of wilfully discrediting the force.''
Later, after film footage of an RUC vehicle mounting a kerb and driving at a group of Catholic children was passed onto the Police Ombudsman's office for investigation, the Newsletter refused to be deterred.
``During last week's riots, children were often placed at the front lines by the rioting hordes in a shameless attempt to make the RUC's job even more difficult.''
When it comes to `the good name of the RUC' no amount of evidence to the contrary is too great a challenge for journalists working for the Newsletter.
Meanwhile, the Sunday World's pitch relied on spotting local republicans. For example, there was ``Brendan `Bic' McFarland, the mastermind of the IRA Maze jail mass breakout in 1988.
Deprived of any evidence that republicans were engaging or encouraging any kind of riotous behaviour, the Sunday World relies in the `shock horror' of an event that happened over a decade ago and an evaluation of `Bic's' status as IRA `mastermind'.
``Also on the ground, using another walkie-talkie, was a former Sinn Féin councillor at Belfast City Hall,'' continued the Sunday World, now desperate to try and make it all seem like a sinister plot. And just what is `veteran IRA man' Martin Meehan doing? The Sunday World had to come clean.
``It was Meehan who intervened with rioters to stop the whole of the Ardoyne district being turned into a petrol fuelled holocaust.'' And ``he negotiated with the embattled RUC and the firemen to ensure safe passage''. Now that's really sinister.
As a Derry-born nationalist who has seen a few riots in her day, Nell McCafferty of the Sunday Tribune refuses to stand behind RUC lines, both metaphorically and in actuality. She rejects the stereotypes favoured by the British press of `hordes' and `mobs' and stands with local residents facing a hostile and heavily armed RUC.
From this vantage point, she describes the spark that ignited the confrontation between local people and the RUC. ``The RUC, for reasons that are entirely obscure, invaded the garden of a corner house on Ardoyne Road.
``It was 6.40pm when the officers took possession of the garden and tried to enter the house. They pushed the woman of the house, and some relatives, back through her open front door. Batons and shields were employed against the woman and her family. The family resisted, pushing against the officers in return. Journalists then entered the garden, as did neighbours and more police.''
McCafferty describes the RUC issuing a warning to disperse after a few ``stones from Estoril began to land'' followed immediately by the deployment of the water cannon and plastic bullets. ``A two-man RTÉ camera crew, standing in a doorway in Estoril Park at the end of a long, deserted front garden,'' recounts McCafferty, ``were targeted, deliberately and precisely by the water cannon''.
``The crew were drenched as the water cannon was aimed at them, now at the protestors, and now over the walls of back gardens'', smashing down fencing and tossing garden furniture.
``From the massed ranks of the RUC came a roaring chant,'' records McCafferty, and then ``within seconds the cops were upon us, some people were batoned''. McCafferty described the crowd caught up in the confrontation as ``inexperienced, disorganised... mostly teenagers on their first riotous outing''.
Describing the RUC Chief Constable's claim that republicans had orchestrated the confrontation as ``outlandish'' she comments: ``If the IRA did, the Pope is a Prod.'' Thursday's outcome, McCafferty concludes, was ``about forcing nationalists off their own streets.''
Double bomb attack on Armoy family
The Sunday morning double bomb attack on the home of a Catholic family in Armoy County Antrim was the latest in the area in recent months. Since last week there has been a marked increase in loyalist activity in Antrim that has seen GAA clubs in both Armoy and Ballycastle targeted.
Loyalists also left a sophisticated car bomb in Cargin, South Antrim. The no warning bomb, left outside The Greenhills Bar in the mainly nationalist area last Tuesday 10 July, failed to explode due to a faulty timer. It wasn't until hours afterwards that a warning was eventually issued.
The low point of the latest loyalist upsurge in the county was the killing of teenager Ciaran Cummings in Antrim Town on 4 July.
In Sunday's 1am double bombing, the McClafferty family of nine feel they were lucky to escape death or serious injury as one bomb exploded in the back yard of the house while a second, thrown through the kitchen window, failed to explode.
Speaking to the media, Harry McClafferty said he was terrified for his family. As the first bomb exploded, three of the McClafferty children, 12-year-old twins and their 14-year-old sister, ran into the kitchen where the other device lay.
``They were only saved because the bomb failed to detonate,'' said Harry McClafferty.
Derry city also saw sectarian attacks over the Twelfth. Tension had been high in the city in the run up to last Thursday's March, which was barred from going into the city centre.
The Parades Commission had ruled that only one Orange band could march through the city centre after the Orange Order refused to enter into dialogue with the Bogside residents' group.
On Thursday night, groups of loyalists gained access to Derry's Walls overlooking Fahan Street and rained missiles onto the houses below. Windows in some of the homes were broken.
Describing the attack as ``orchestrated sectarianism'', Sinn Féin councillor Peter Anderson said ``this attack on residents and homes was clearly the work of adults intent on inflicting damage and injury''. He said the RUC had made little effort to intervene.
Sinn Féin's Waterside councillor Lynn Fleming accused the RUC of provoking local nationalists when they mounted a security operation during last Thursday's Twelfth in the Top of the Hill area.
Yet more sectarian attacks
A Catholic couple living in the Short Strand had a lucky escape when a loyalist gang jumped from a car and and tried to attack them with a hatchet.
The 32-year-old man and his wife were walking home along the Mountpottinger Road in East Belfast at 3:30am on 12 July when the car approached them. According to the man there were three men in the car and one jumped out with a hatchet. ``Had it not been for the crowd standing at nearby Loughlea who saw the commotion and came to our rescue, these loyalists would have done some damage,'' the victim maintained.
Local people told An Phoblacht that the maroon Ford Escort used in the attack had been seen driving around the Short Strand area earlier that evening.
Residents of Bombay Street, under constant attack from loyalists over these last number of weeks, were again attacked on Tuesday 17 July when a barrage of petrol bombs were thrown over the `peace wall'.
The attacks were orchestrated by the UDA. Lower Falls Sinn Féin Councillor Fra McCann hit out at the loyalists responsible for the second paint bomb attack in a week on the home of SDLP councillor Margaret Walsh in Barrack Street. The councillor's home was targeted again on Tuesday 17 July by loyalists intending to inflame an already volatile situation, said McCann.
The Church of Our Lady, situated in the predominantly loyalist Harryville area of Ballymena and the target of loyalist pickets over the past five years, was targeted by paint bombers on Saturday 14 July.
This latest attack comes a week after nationalist residents in the town's Fisherwick estate removed Irish flags following constant pickets by loyalists.
The Catholic Church in Harryville has been the centre of sectarian tension in Ballymena for many years. The paint bomb attack on the church follows a catalogue of incidents at the church extending back to a loyalist picket in September 1996 after an Orange Order march was barred from the nearby nationalist village of Dunloy.
Hoax bomb attacks on two Catholic families in Ballynahinch, County Down, have been described as `blatantly sectarian'.
The devices, bottles filled with petrol and fire lighters, were left under a van belonging to one family and at the front door of the house of the other family.
One of the men has been regularly targeted by loyalists in the town centre. Loyalist youths have hurled bricks at his van, sometimes breaking the windows.
Reported with prejudice
Maintaining the tit-for-tat myth
BY FERN LANE
On 11 July the home of two elderly sisters living in the Short Strand area of Belfast was firebombed, forcing the terrified women to leave the house in which they said they had lived for years in peaceful co-existence with their neighbours.
Unusually, for what appeared to be a straightforward sectarian attack, the incident received widespread and detailed media coverage, in notable contrast to that afforded most of the hundreds of sectarian attacks taking place daily across not only Belfast but several other areas of the Six Counties. The story even made it onto the front page of The Guardian, a newspaper that normally confines its very sporadic coverage of sectarian attacks to a few paragraphs six pages in.
On the Twelfth night, a further series of sectarian attacks took place in the Short Strand, when a row of bungalows, all occupied by pensioners, was stoned by a crowd of youths, causing damage to the roofs. Then, on the night of Sunday/Monday, the assailants returned, first throwing flammable liquid onto the roofs, leaving it to soak in to the tiles for a short time before throwing petrol bombs to ignite it. Some 16 bungalows sustained various degrees of damage, ranging from total destruction to severe water and smoke damage. As a consequence, eight or ten traumatised pensioners will have to be rehoused in an area already suffering from a severe shortage of homes, and several others are in urgent need of respite care.
On Monday, as a number of local residents attempted to repair those roofs which could be repaired, shots were fired at them from the Newtownards Road. During the evening, loyalist youths returned to attack the bungalows yet again. As Sinn Féin's Joe O'Donnell, representative for the area, observed, they were there to ``finish the job''. While they hurled rocks, bottles and petrol bombs, the youths were heard to shout: ``We're going to kill your pensioners. If we can't burn them out, we'll kill them with fright'', a reference perhaps to the elderly Catholic woman who died recently soon after being burned out of her home in Lisburn, an incident which received only attenuated coverage.
Despite all this, the BBC only began to run reports from the Short Strand on Tuesday, after serious rioting by loyalist youths had erupted late the previous night, and even then it chose to run it in conjunction with images of disturbances in north Belfast earlier in the day (focusing, no doubt in the interests of `balance', on a couple of teenage boys in Celtic shirts) and providing an adroit visual correlative to the words of the British print media which does not bother to - perhaps is unable to - differentiate between organised sectarian thuggery and a community's response to flagrant injustice. This systemic intellectual laziness was summed up by The Sunday Times, whose story on rioting by Asian communities in England last week (only for the benefit of their British readers of course) ran under the racist headline of ``We thought only the Irish rioted like this''.
Dennis Murray's report for the BBC on the riot in the Short Strand, scandalously, perpetuated the myth that all loyalist violence is merely retaliatory, telling viewers that the trouble had begun only ``after reports of gunfire coming from the nationalist side''. As ever, the underlying narrative was of heroic police officers keeping two mindless, warring communities apart. (According to Ronnie Flanagan, however, this riot ``appeared spontaneous'', whereas that in Ardoyne on 12 July was ``orchestrated''.) At no point did Murray refer to the burning out of the pensioners' bungalows. But he was not alone in the British media in ignoring the incident, which did not receive so much as a mention in The Guardian, the newspaper which made so much of the assault on the two sisters' home.
So what is the difference between these two attacks? Simply that the former was against Protestants and the latter against Catholics. Attention is routinely focused on real or imagined nationalist attacks on Protestants whilst any number of attacks on Catholics by loyalists are ignored and the media continues with its supposedly `even-handed' approach of suggesting that sectarian attacks come in equal numbers from both communities and that individual acts of vandalism are of the same order as a systematic campaign.
So, for example, some weeks ago the BBC ran images of Protestant families in the loyalist-controlled Glenbryn area of north Belfast leaving their homes, taking whatever possessions they could carry with them, not because they had actually been attacked, but because of some undefined, unspecified threat from nearby nationalists from the Ardoyne, threats which never materialised and which in reality had been fabricated by loyalist paramilitaries. There were no corresponding images of Catholic families, who had not had the time to hang around waiting for camera crews to arrive before fleeing as real paint, petrol and blast bombs rained down on their homes and through their windows.
A quick look through the musings of columnists in both the Irish and British media also confirms that there seems to be an unspoken agreement that any discussion around the issue of sectarianism will confer blame equally on both sides, even when the objective evidence contradicts this.
Between 1 January and 30 June this year there have been around 170 reported sectarian attacks on Catholics and Catholic homes. Many of these incidents have taken the form of loyalist incursions into nationalist areas and have involved several homes, so the true figure is significantly higher. Further, that figure does not include the numerous attacks by loyalists on nationalist politicians, both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, during the election campaign. Many more sectarian attacks on Catholics go unreported, simply because the Catholic community does not have any faith in the RUC. Reported attacks on Protestants and Protestant homes over the same period total less than 20. Last year at least 25 Protestant homes were attacked by loyalist paramilitaries during their feud alone.
What is consistent, however, is the different approach adopted by the RUC to rioting in loyalist areas. Joe O'Donnell points out that, on Monday evening, more gunfire was heard from the Newtownards Road, seemingly this time aimed at crown forces, who had moved into the area. But, he says, ``to the best of my knowledge, there were no baton rounds fired. Compare that with what happened in Ardoyne. There was a full-scale riot taking place by loyalists adjacent to the Short Strand, but no plastic bullets were used and there was only one arrest.''
The conspicuous difference - a difference consistently and grossly misrepresented in the media - in the nature of sectarianism is that, against Catholics, it is premeditated, orchestrated, sustained and overwhelming. In addition, the UDA has been involved in systematically attacking its own community in order to justify this campaign against Catholic communities. Indeed, it seems that a loyalist from East Belfast has been arrested in connection with the attack on the Protestant sisters' home.
Back in the Short Strand, the media's interest will once again wane to the levels of pre-riot indifference. Says O'Donnell: ``This area has been virtually living under siege since the beginning of the summer. No-one has had much sleep. Everyone is suffering, but pensioners are particularly vulnerable. Even on normal days, it's like living in an open prison. What way is this for children to live their summer holidays? What way is this for pensioners to live out their latter years?
Like many others in nationalist areas, he is mystified by the silence of the media over what has happened in recent days in the Short Strand. ``Most people from the media who have come here have been staggered by the devastation, but then they have gone back and said that perhaps two houses were burned, minimising what has happened. They have completely misrepresented the situation here.''