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4 October 2001 Edition

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Reid paves way for attacks

The refusal, on Friday 28 September, of British Secretary of State John Reid to rule that the UDA has broken its cease fire and instead give the loyalist group a reprieve opened the door for attacks on nationalists at the weekend.

In the worst of the violence blast bombs were thrown from the UDA stronghold of Tiger's Bay into North Queen Street at Catholic houses that have been under threat from loyalists since they were occupied two years ago.

And in a sinister development, the UDA warned that it would shoot dead any nationalist attacking "Protestant communities".

On Sunday night at approximately 10.45pm, loyalists from Tiger's Bay threw fireworks at the houses on North Queen Street and when residents came out to investigate they were targeted in a blast bomb attack with four bombs being thrown. According to Sinn FÈin councillor Gerard Brophy three of the devices exploded.

"The initial attacks were, it seems, carried out by teenagers but when the residents came out to see what was happening, up to 40 to 50 adults appeared, including well known UDA figures, and launched a full scale attack. The blast bombs were thrown by people in this crowd," said Brophy.

The loyalists followed up Sunday's violence on Monday morning when they attacked schoolchildren at a bus stop in Duncairn Gardens. The Catholic children who attend St Patrick's secondary school at Bearna Gaotha and the Little Flower girls' secondary school, were waiting at the bus stop in Duncairn Gardens when a number of men approached them.

Brophy said the loyalists were armed with a spade, baseball bats and broken bottles. "One lad was hit with a bottle and suffered a leg injury and had to receive hospital treatment. The kids panicked and ran in to the road towards the business park,where they were given shelter. It was lucky none of them were injured or killed running across what is a very busy road," said Brophy.

"Is John Reid going to wait until someone is killed before he declares the UDA ceasefire over?" the Sinn FÈin councillor asked.


British fail to confront loyalist violence

Reid tests the limits of credibility


Within hours of John Reid declaring that his decision to give the UDA a second chance might "save lives in the community", loyalist gunmen had killed journalist Martin O Hagan and within two days loyalist violence had erupted again in North Belfast
"I give this warning," said the British Secretary of State, "if there is UDA inspired violence in Belfast tonight, the UDA will be specified tomorrow." John Reid spoke directly into camera; the face was stern but the message shamefaced.

Throughout the year Catholic families have borne the brunt of an orchestrated campaign of sectarian intimidation and violence that has seen over 250 serious attacks and a number of killings.

In more recent weeks we have witnessed the spectacle of loyalist thugs hurling abuse and missiles at Catholic primary school children in the name of loyalist grievances and sustained attacks on the homes of Catholic families in North Belfast.

"If there is a continuation of pipe bomb attacks on the security forces, the UDA will be specified. There will be no warning and no ultimatum," said Reid.

But behind John Reid's tough words was just another soft option. Shying away from admitting what has already been widely acknowledged, that the UDA ceasefire is over and has been for many months, the British minister announced he was giving the UDA one last chance.

On the brink of declaring the UDA ceasefire over, Reid claims he was told by an identified source speaking on behalf of God knows who, that the UDA would end it's violence. "If there is a continuation of pipe bomb attacks and attacks on the security forces, the UDA will be specified. They will be tested every day," said Reid.

But for now, Reid was testing the limits of credibility, claiming that the UDA had spontaneously taken the decision to end its campaign of violence totally independent of any prior whiff of the pending threat from the NIO. This wasn't a case of "blackmail or anything like that," said Reid. Well, what a relief that was!

For months, the British government has hidden behind the myth that the loyalist onslaught, particularly in North Belfast, was really inter-community strife that could only be resolved by the communities themselves.

Like Pontius Pilate, the secretary of state washed his hands of the problem, leaving beleaguered nationalists, like the parents of Holy Cross pupils, to seek a settlement with their 'Protestant neighbours'.

And all the time we all knew that the violence emanated from the UDA, determined to drum up sectarian strife not because Catholic schoolgirls and their parents really posed a threat to Protestant neighbourhoods, but in a crude attempt to destabilise the peace process.

The sectarian bigots of the UDA pushed Catholic children and Catholic families into the front line of their violent campaign of intimidation and the British Secretary of State left them there.

Exposed and vulnerable, nationalist residents and parents desperately sought dialogue with their Protestant neighbours and unionist political representatives only to be repeatedly rebuffed. Resolution was never part of the UDA game plan. Anti Agreement unionism concurred.

And the attacks continued. Condemnation by the international media had momentarily moderated the more blatant public displays of outright bigotry against the schoolgirls of Holy Cross but as soon as the focus shifted away, the abuse escalated again.

With a cacophony of hatred in the their ears, the children of Holy Cross have been pelted with fireworks, lit cigarettes and dog shit by loyalists sporting comical masks, a tiger mask, a likeness of George Bush, as if it was all a huge joke.

But racism is never funny. And like the masks behind which the perpetrators hide, the lies that attempt to disguise it are equally despicable. Take the article carried by the Irish Times Saturday September 29.

The British Secretary of State had decided against declaring the UDA ceasefire over, wrote Jim Cusack, "because both loyalists and republicans have been involved in the street violence in North Belfast this week".

To back up his argument, Cusack cites a particular incident, in which he claims, "loyalist violence flared after a local man was kidnapped by the IRA and taken to a drinking club in Ardoyne. Local loyalists said the IRA was in the process of attempting to murder the man."

This is a total fabrication. It surfaced originally by loyalists attempting to 'justify' an attack on the Brookfield Mill complex last weekend. The falsehood was exposed first by local eye witnesses, whose evidence was later confirmed by the RUC. There was no kidnapping. There was no attempted murder.

These facts had been established and reported within the media days before the article appeared in the Irish Times, but it was too convenient a hook to hang his analysis upon for Cusack to discard. Cusack begins with a fabrication and ends with a fudge.

Cusack admits that "the UDA has been the primary source of organised violence in the North this summer," but suggests that, "a majority of UDA members has refrained from engaging in violence."

Somewhat curiously, Cusack then presents a fairly comprehensive list of UDA 'battalions' and 'companies' currently engaging in violence.

The North West battalion has been "involved in pipe bomb attacks on Catholic homes in Derry and North Antrim," writes Cusack. "Its members also murdered John McCormick (25) a Catholic who was living in a mixed estate in Coleraine."

The East Antrim battalion "has been involved in a campaign of sectarian intimidation and attacks that began last year. The campaign was most intense in the Larne and Whitewell are of north Belfast," says Cusack.

"It was also responsible for the murders of Trevor Lowry (49) and Gavin Brett (18) in Glengormley. Both were Protestants who were killed by mistake because they were thought to be Catholics."

In Belfast, Cusack turned attention to Johnny Adair's 'C' company, originally based in the Shankill but after the feud dispersed into other areas of Belfast.

"Many of the 'C' company UDA went to the loyalist Tiger's Bay and Glenbryn areas" and have been "prominent in the protests against the Catholic children from Holy Cross School."

In the light of all this evidence to the contrary, it's difficult to identify "the majority of UDA members" which according to Cusack, have been "refraining" from violence. It must be a case of the UDA's ceasefire is not over until the fat lady sings.

Meanwhile, events were swiftly overtaking John Reid. Within hours of declaring that his decision to give the UDA a second chance might "save lives in the community" loyalist gunmen had killed prominent journalist Martin O Hagan and within two days loyalist violence, with blast bomb attacks and death threats, had erupted again in North Belfast.

The former is believed to be the work of the LVF and the latter the UDA, with both groupings operating under the shared banner of the Red Hand Defenders. Reid, who had sought to justify his inaction with the promise of swift action if loyalist violence continued, did nothing.

If the British Secretary of State's position began as foolish, it quickly collapsed into the absurd as more details emerged of the 'assurance' Reid claimed had been sufficient to stop him declaring the UDA ceasefire over.

Speaking of the UDA, John White of the UDP declared, "I have spoken to leading members of that organisation and their leadership is saying very clearly, they did not give assurances to anyone and are bewildered as to where the Secretary of State got his message from."

Another UDA source said: "It does not matter whether John Reid says the ceasefire is over or not. As far as we are concerned it's up to us to say whether we are on ceasefire or not."

Under pressure, Reid attempted to hide behind semantics and admitted he had not received a communication; it had simply been communicated to him.

We do not know what was said and by whom to John Reid. Indeed the British Secretary of State appears barely to know himself. But one thing remains clear the British government's continuing failure to grasp the nettle of ongoing loyalist violence is undermining the peace process and putting the lives of many ordinary people at risk.


LVF kill journalist in Lurgan

The killing of Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan on Friday evening, 28 September, at about 10.30pm was almost certainly the work of the LVF.

O'Hagan, a Catholic, was killed as he returned home from a night out in a nearby pub. His wife Marie was with him when the loyalists struck.

Martin O'Hagan, who lived at Westfield Gardens near Lurgan's notoriously loyalist Mourneview Estate, was hit a number of times as the gunmen fired a burst of seven shots. It is thought O'Hagan was killed by two of the bullets, which hit him in the back.

The car believed to have been used by the gunmen, a Ford Orion, was later found burned out at nearby Glenavon Lane.

Despite a claim issued by the Red Hand Defenders claiming responsibility for killing O'Hagan and accusing him of "crimes against the loyalist people", it is almost certain that the LVF were behind the shooting.

That group, which broke away from the UVF, is strongest in the Lurgan\Portadown area and despite claiming to be on ceasefire has been behind most of the loyalist violence in that area, including the killings of a number of Catholics.

Catholic grandmother Elizabeth O'Neill, Adrian Lamph and RUC man Frankie O'Reilly were among those killed by the LVF in Portadown.

The split in the UVF occurred when the leader of the Mid-Ulster unit, Billy Wright, was dismissed from the UVF after ordering the death of Catholic Michael McGoldrick in July 1996 during the stand off on the Garvaghy Road over the annual Drumcree Orange parade. That split later escalated into feuding, which left a number of people dead, including UVF commander Richard Jameson.

As a journalist working for the Sunday World, articles written by Martin O'Hagan over many years exposing the connections between the loyalists and the drugs underworld made him a prime target for attack.

It is widely believed that Wright, dubbed King Rat, who was deeply implicated in the drugs trade and was an agent of British intelligence, had threatened to kill O'Hagan in the past.

O'Hagan was also closely involved in research for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme 'The Committee', which exposed links between unionist politicians, businessmen and senior RUC officers with loyalist gunmen.

O'Hagan gave evidence in a libel case taken by programme maker Sean McPhilemy against the Sunday Times, a case won by McPhilemy. During the making of the documentary, a number of researchers were relentlessly pursued by the RUC and in one incident, offices used by the filmmakers were mysteriously broken into.

O'Hagan is the second person connected with the documentary to be killed. Rosemary Nelson, the Lurgan defence lawyer assassinated in 1999, also assisted McPhilemy.


More loyalist death threats

The RUC have approached up to seven Sinn FÈin activists from the South Antrim area that they are under threat from the Red Hand Defenders.

According to Martin Meehan, the RUC visited himself as well as other party members telling them of the threat to their lives.

Party activists in Antrim Town, Randalstown,Crumlin and Glengormley on the outskirts of Belfast were all informed by the RUC over the past five days that their lives were in danger.

Meehan also said that reliable sources told him that members of the loyalist gang involved in the shooting of journalist Martin O'Hagan were behind the threats to the Sinn FÈin members.

And Sinn FÈin's candidate in Mayo, Vincent Wood, has been informed by the GardaÌ that his name has been found on a list uncovered during a search of a premises controlled by Loyalist paramilitaries.

"The GardaÌ informed me that details of my current home address and that of several other Sinn FÈin representatives were documented and that I should take precautions for my safety and that of my family," said Wood.


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