27 September 2001 Edition
Anger at British suspension
Haven't we been here before? It has been another week of loyalist attacks on nationalist and republican areas and of squandered opportunities in the political process.
This has become a recurrent theme. Families in vulnerable areas live in fear of loyalist bombings, yet are bombarded with media commentary about IRA arms. Meanwhile, the British government and the unionist parties are posturing in the face of political disaster. Nationalists and republicans are sick and tired of it.
It was not IRA arms that carried out attacks on Rosapenna Street, Newington Street, the Crumlin Road, North Queen Street, Hillman Street and many other areas throughout Belfast in the past week. It was not republicans who hurled fireworks and tea at children coming home from Holy Cross primaty school on Wednesday afternoon. This is not a case of `blame on both sides'.
British Secretary of State John Reid's remarks at the weekend, in which he concentrated entirely on IRA weapons and ignored the escalating bomb attacks by the UDA - including 12 at the weekend - beggared belief. The count on attacks perpetrated by loyalists on nationalist areas this year has rocketed to 250. Yet, with characteristic insensitivity, most politicians and the bulk of the media in this country and in Britain have ignored this onslaught.
Ronnie Flanagan's announcement that there was ``ample evidence'' that the UDA had re-engaged in ``acts of terrorism'' amounts to a cynical joke after hundreds of UDA attacks.
To further anger those concerned with protecting the Good Friday Agreement, John Reid's made the disastrous decision to again suspend the institutions - the third such suspension announced by a British Secretary since the Good Friday Agreement. Despite the options available to him of declaring a review of the Agreement or of calling elections, Reid instead chose to undermine the institutions and encourage Trimble's obstructionism yet again.
Together, David Trimble, the British government and the UDA have engaged in a strategy that amounts to a veto in the one hand and a pipe bomb in the other.
Political unionism, the UDA and the British government are effectively working together to destroy the Agreement.
It takes more than a bigot with a brick
BY LAURA FRIEL
In a scene reminiscent of the attack on Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill, terrified and screaming for help, Carmel Grant pleaded with armed RUC officers sitting in a jeep outside her Newington Avenue home to intervene as loyalists laid siege to the back of her house.
``They refused,'' says Carmel. ``They said they weren't allowed to leave the jeep.''
Standing on a wall to the rear of the house, a gang of loyalist men pelted the Catholic family's home with bricks and bottles and bolts. Carmel's husband John, who was in the backyard attempting to board up a back window, ran for cover into a neighbour's home.
The couple's eleven-year-old son, John, cried out as he watched loyalists bombard his father with missiles, ``Daddy, daddy,'' he screamed. As the windows came in around her, eight-year-old Shauna sought refuge in a front room while her mother ran for help. It was 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.
A few hours later and in another part of North Belfast, loyalists struck again. A Catholic couple had been spending the afternoon watching football at their local pub. ``We decided to go for a quiet drink and watch the match,'' says Frank.
Earlier that day, shortly after noon, loyalists had thrown two pipe bombs into the Brookfield complex where the pub is situated. One device, packed with nails, exploded scattering shrapnel across the yard. The second had been defused.
It was 7.30pm when someone shouted a warning. Loyalists had broken through security gates that divide the complex from the Crumlin Road. ``Someone shouted to get out,'' says Frank. ``They're outside, someone said. Everyone was a bit panicky.''
Two RUC jeeps were already at the scene and beside them stood RUC officers in full riot gear. As a local security man struggled to secure the gates, Frank went over to help. ``Once the gates were locked we thought we'd be safe,'' says Frank.
At the gates there were between 40 and 50 loyalists shouting and spitting the usual sectarian venom. ``A loyalist with a Scottish accent shouted `Fenian bastard' at me and spat in my face,'' says Frank.
The loyalist was poking a wooden stick through the rails, it looked innocuous but it must have been doctored with nails. ``I was hit in the leg, there was blood everywhere,'' says Frank. ``I thought I'd been shot.''
The RUC made no attempt to intervene. They made no attempt to arrest any of the loyalists laying siege. They did not challenge the loyalist who, in front of their eyes, had just carried out a serious assault. Angry and injured, Frank remonstrated with the RUC officers standing around him. Their response was swift and decisive.
``I was batoned to the ground and beaten by three RUC officers,'' says Frank. ``I was hit across the back of my head and on my arms and legs.'' As Frank struggled to his feet one RUC officer lifted his shield and slammed it down hard on his leg, splitting the flesh open and breaking the bone.
Compliance makes a sectarian state
It takes more than a bigot with a brick. It takes more than a gang of sectarian thugs. It takes more than a concerted campaign of intimidation by the UDA. It even takes more than an RUC patrol that refuses to intervene or engages in sectarian violence. What makes the Six Counties a sectarian state is the compliance of everyone else.
It takes an RUC hierarchy refusing to discipline officers clearly in breach of their duties and unionist politicians obscuring loyalist violence with platitudes or encouraging it by indulging in the politics of exclusion. It involves a British Secretary of State refusing to acknowledge the UDA ceasefire is over, a British government failing to defend the Good Friday Agreement and a compliant media.
Standing at the back of Carmel Grant's home, local Assembly member Gerry Kelly holds the recovered debris and shrapnel from a number of pipe bomb attacks and tells the media of the weekend loyalist ``onslaught'' against Catholics in North Belfast.
The bricks and bottles of Sunday afternoon had been followed by pipe bomb and gun attacks on Monday night. There had been repeated attacks in Ardoyne as well as Newington.
Along the row of houses behind Kelly, almost all of the windows have been smashed. Some have been blocked with temporary boarding hammered into place on the inside frames. A few remain open to the elements, bedroom curtains flap in the breeze, allowing an occasional glimpse of their domestic interiors.
The ground underneath is littered with stones, bricks and broken glass and is treacherous underfoot. If this was a row of empty houses it would be a dismal scene of dereliction but behind the shuttered windows parents are rearing children and families are living in fear.
The local and British media has turned out in force. There are plenty of camera crews vying for the best shot and journalists to field questions, but their interest lies beyond the shattered glass and lives of people here.
At the height of the weekend's disturbances, gunshots had rung out on a number of occasions in different parts of North Belfast. In most instances, the gunfire emanated from within loyalist areas and in a statement issued by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by the UDA and LVF, loyalists have admitted as much.
But there is an allegation that republicans may have been responsible for one burst of fire. Eager to play its part in the wider unionist agenda, the media is here to question Sinn Féin about the status of the IRA ceasefire.
Accusing the media of double standards, Kelly points out that there have been over 250 loyalist gun and bomb attacks on Catholic families this year. ``And let's get one thing straight,'' says Kelly. ``The RUC and British Army are not protecting Catholics here.''
Comments by the British security minister Jane Kennedy, who claimed the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland recognised the RUC as dedicated police officers, had angered nationalists, said Kelly.
Referring to the recent suspension of the Assembly, he said: ``At one end of the unionist spectrum we have the institutions being pulled down, at the other end loyalists are attacking Catholics.''
On Monday, Ulster Unionist leader and former First Minister David Trimble had tabled a motion at Stormont to exclude Sinn Féin and announced plans to banish Sinn Féin ministers, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún from the executive if the IRA refuse to decommission.
``David Trimble has constantly set out to delay and frustrate the process of change and progress that the agreement represented,'' said Sinn Féin Chief Whip Alex Maskey. In a further attempt to scupper the Good Friday Agreement, Trimble has threatened to pull out his ministers from the power sharing Assembly if the motion to exclude Sinn Féin fails.
``His illegal exclusion of Sinn Féin from the cross border institutions and now his attempt to destroy the Executive is an attack on the principles of inclusion, equality and justice,'' Maskey said. Far from acting as guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the British government has collapsed into bowing to unionist ultimatums.
``John Reid's singular focus on the issue of silent IRA weapons without reference to the UDA pogrom against Catholics suggests a British government policy which now appears to be little different from that being pursued by David Trimble and the UUP,'' said Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin.
Standing in the back living room of her Newington Avenue home, Carmel Grant politely answers the media's questions. Despite her ordeal, she speaks calmly with a gentle modesty. At night, the children are staying with relatives. Carmel and her husband haven't been able to sleep for fear of further attack. Loyalists have threatened to ``barbecue'' them next time round. The family have lived here for five years. They have nowhere else to go.
The windows are boarded and the room is dark. Even after the glass has been replaced, Carmel says her family will be too afraid to remove the inner boards. There will be no autumn sunshine here. No daylight to chase away the shadows of ongoing sectarian intimidation. No dawn to dispel the gloom of an uncertain future.
Latest Ardoyne attack
Workers carrying out repairs in the Brookfield Mill complex in Ardoyne narrowly escaped injury or death in the latest loyalist bomb attack in North Belfast.
The attack, carried out at approximately 12 noon on Wednesday 26 September, was launched across the `peace line' on Crumlin Road as the workers carried out repairs to the complex.
One man, who was on a ladder and a workmate who was holding the ladder, both escaped injury as the loyalist device - described as a blast bomb contained in a heavy metal cylinder - exploded.
According to witnesses, loyalists had been climbing up onto the wall during the course of the morning and were hurling sectarian abuse at people in the Mill complex. The loyalists also warned that they would attack the mill ``again''.
On Sunday, two blast bombs were thrown at the mill and later that day a loyalist mob broke through the gates to attack the complex but were confronted by nationalists who drove them off.
Sinn Féin Councillor Margaret McClenaghan accused the loyalists of timing their attack to coincide with lunchtime at Holy Cross girl's school.
``Parents were gathering to collect the children from the school at the time and I've no doubt the loyalists timed this attack to terrorise the children.''
Loyalist violence update
Car bomb attack, Ashley Heights, Armagh.
Arson attack on Holy Cross Church, North Belfast.
19-year-old Catholic man attacked by loyalist gang, Newtonards Road, North Belfast.
Two pipe bombs thrown at Catholic homes in Manor Close, North Belfast.
Pipe bomb attack Rosemount Gardens, in the Antrim Road area of Belfast.
Pipe bomb thrown at Catholic home, Ingledale Park, North Belfast.
Petrol bombs thrown at Catholic homes in Bombay Street, West Belfast.
12-year-old Catholic boy beaten by loyalist gang at the junction of Rosetta Road and Wynchurch Road, South Belfast.
Pipe bomb thrown at nationalist teenagers, Limestone Road, North Belfast. Two injured.
Bus carrying Catholic children to seaside daytrip stoned, Limestone Road, North Belfast.
Catholic homes in Duncarin Gardens, North Belfast, attacked with bricks, bottles and bolts.
16-year-old Catholic girl, Coleen Burns, beaten by loyalist gang near Clifton Street, North Belfast.
Two teenage Catholic girls attacked by loyalist mob from Tigers Bay, North Belfast.
Pipe bomb attack in Tullymore Gardens, West Belfast.
16-year-old Catholic boy escapes abduction attempt, Stewartstown Road, West Belfast.
Sectarian beating in Deerpark Road, North Belfast. John Paul Thompson stabbed and battered by loyalist gang.
Pipe bomb attack on the home of Catholic couple, Dolores and Dermot Hoy, Deerpark Parade, North Belfast.
Bomb defused at Lammas Fair, Ballycastle.
Abduction attempt of Catholic girl, Ann Kelly, at the junction of Jamaica Street and Alliance Avenue, North Belfast.
Pipe bomb attack at Belfast Castle.
Catholic homes attacked in Newington Street, Parkend Street and Clanchattan Street.
Catholic homes attacked in Limestone Road, North Belfast.
Pipe bomb attack at the home of a prominent Belfast Republican, Liam Shannon.
Catholic families in Duncairn Gardens, North Belfast, receive hand written death threats.
School bus attacked carrying St. Coleman's pupils in Ballynahinch.
Catholic taxi driver foils murder attempt, Parkmount Terrace, North Belfast.
Catholic building workers threatened in Lisburn.
Catholic home petrol bombed in Donard Drive, in the Tonagh area of Lisburn.
Car bomb attack on Sinn Fein activist, Ballycastle.
Pipe bomb attack in North Queens Street, Belfast.
Two pipe bombs thrown in the Brookfield Mills complex, North Belfast.
Seven pipe bombs thrown in the Limestone Road and Newington area of North Belfast.
Shots fired at nationalists from the loyalist Tigers Bay area.
Pipe bomb attack in the Brookfield Mill complex, North Belfast.
People are getting fed up
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
Intensified loyalist attacks, another suspension of the Agreement institutions, four weeks into a violent loyalist attempt to prevent Catholic children from going to school, yet all the while `IRA decommissioning' dominates the headlines.
British Secretary of State John Reid's remarks at the weekend, in which he concentrated entirely on IRA weapons and ignored the escalating bomb attacks by the UDA - including 12 pipe bomb attacks at the weekend - beggared belief
Rarely has any political lobby done as good a job as unionism has recently of rocking their own boat and persuading everyone else that there's a storm at sea.
Disillusioned at the pace of progress and frustrated with the hypocrisy and cynicism of anti-republican elements, it is with increasing astonishment and anger that republicans and nationalists have viewed the unfolding of recent events.
British Secretary of State John Reid's remarks at the weekend, in which he concentrated entirely on IRA weapons and ignored the escalating bomb attacks by the UDA - including 12 pipe bomb attacks at the weekend - beggared belief. In a matter of weeks, the count on attacks perpetrated by loyalists on nationalist areas this year has gone from 200 to 250. Yet, with characteristic insensitivity, most politicians and the bulk of the media in this country, and in Britain, have ignored the onslaught on nationalists.
Somehow, active loyalist bombs are less of a threat than silent IRA weapons in the eyes of the Indo and the Times; if you're a Catholic your life and general safety warrant less column inches than rehashed arguments for IRA decommissioning. To anyone who has any feeling, or compassion for those children who face a daily gauntlet of loyalist hate, or those nationalist communities forced to live with the constant fear of loyalist attack, political and journalistic indifference to this reality must seem absolutely sick.
Ronnie Flanagan's announcement that there was ``ample evidence'' that the UDA had re-engaged in ``acts of terrorism'' was a belated statement of the obvious. It came as British Army bomb disposal experts discovered two unexploded pipe bombs at the rear of a Catholic house in Rosapenna Street, Belfast, on Wednesday, and after attacks on a Catholic home at a flashpoint in Newington Street. While Flanagan expressed his opinion that there is ``no doubt'' that UDA members have been orchestrating attacks, a decision on whether the organisation had breached its `ceasefire' was up to John Reid, he said.
But Reid, who should have declared the UDA ceasefire to be over long ago, was concentrating on the silent guns held by the IRA. ``What we need to break the impasse, and hopefully it will come soon, is for the IRA to take that step they said they were prepared to take,'' Reid said. In its statement of Wednesday 19 September, however, the IRA made its position abundantly clear. While it has pledged to re-engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the Army outlined its reasons for revoking its 8 August proposal to put arms beyond use: ``The IRA leadership's ability to speedily and substantially progress the decision was completely undermined by the setting of further preconditions and the outright rejection of the IICD statement by the UUP leadership,'' it said. ``Further actions by the British government, including a continued failure to fulfil its commitments, removed the conditions necessary for progress. On August 14 we withdrew our proposal.''
The British government has shown no sign of fulfilling the conditions necessary for progress. If anything, it is prepared to exploit any opportunity it gets to attack the IRA and exacerbate republican anger and disillusionment. John Reid's suspension of the institutions - the third such suspension announced by a British Secretary since the Good Friday Agreement was ratified - was a massive blunder. Despite the options available to him, that of declaring a review of the Agreement or in the event of a failure of that reviw, of calling elections, Reid chose to undermine the institutions and vindicate Trimble's obstructionism.
Together, David Trimble, the British government and the UDA have engaged in a strategy that amounts to a veto in the one hand and a pipe bomb in the other. While they have been prepared to ignore the 250 sectarian, racist attacks on nationalist areas, gunfire from a nationalist area of North Belfast on Monday night provoked a disproportionate hubub of condemnation from establishment unionism. Nigel Dodds of the DUP, who has supported loyalists attacking children in Ardoyne, was declaring the IRA cessation at an end, while British `security' minister Jane Kennedy said that the validity of the cessation would have to be reviewed. And what of the UDA?
The failure in British and unionist circles to exert pressure on the UDA to stop their campaign of violence against Catholics amounts to a tacit acceptance of that campaign. Furthermore, their constant focus on the IRA is affording the UDA the moral vacuum in which to operate. While political unionism attempts to pull down the Agreement's institutions and to exclude Sinn Féin, the UDA continues its bombing campaign, while the British government remains silent and the media plays its part by playing the warped `balance' card that has always downplayed loyalist violence.
It seems that the British government is prepared to squander an unprecendented opportunity for a lasting peace on this island. While republicans remain wedded to this process, there is a seething and justifiable anger at the hypocrisy of Britain's fixation on silent guns and blind eye to unionism's attacks on the peace process.