18 October 2001 Edition
Reid finally accepts the obvious
UDA ceasefire declared over
BY FERN LANE
After three killings and more than 200 attacks on Catholics in the past year, British Secretary of State John Reid finally declared that the seven-year UDA 'ceasefire' is over. The announcement on Friday 12 October came only after the UDA had been involved in serious clashes with the RUC on the lower Shankill the previous night.
Violence erupted in the area after police raids, which turned up a pipe bomb, ammunition, a timer, three blank firing guns and cannabis worth around £1,000. It would seem, therefore, that UDA attacks on the RUC, rather than the appalling violence inflicted on the nationalist community, prompted Dr Reid to made his decision. The LVF - whose supposed ceasefire was equally non-existent - were also 'respecified'.
In making the announcement, Dr Reid admitted that both the UDA and LVF had "systematically breached their ceasefire". The Secretary of State had been poised to respecify both groups two weeks before but backed down after coming under political pressure, saying that as he had received communication from the UDA (a claim subsequently denied by loyalist spokesmen) that their campaign against Catholics would stop. Loyalists would be given one last chance to prove that their 'ceasefire' was holding. The following night, the LVF shot down journalist Martin O'Hagan. Reid claimed that the UDA, after a brief pause, had resumed its campaign, including its involvement with the Holy Cross protest.
Dr Reid said that the UDA and LVF seemed "determined to spurn the opportunity given to them by the people to make the transition from violence to democracy". He said that the decision would probably not change either the UDA's or the LVF's behaviour, adding that "they may lash out and flaunt their immorality and their contempt for the law. But there is a limit to society's tolerance and that limit has now been reached".
Sinn Féin Assembly member and policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said the announcement was long overdue. He said John Reid had reneged on his decision to respecify the UDA two weeks ago, when he accepted the "discredited" word of the UDA that they would observe their ceasefire.
"What the British government have done is accept what Catholic victims of the UDA have been telling them for well over a year and accept that they called it wrong two weeks ago," he said. "The UDA are involved in an ongoing campaign against Catholics and are involved in the blockade of Holy Cross School. However, it is worth noting that Mr Reid only took this decision after the UDA attacked members of the RUC."
After the announcement, one UDA leader issued a warning, threatening that if UDA leaders were arrested, "5,000 members will take to the streets and the place will go berserk. There won't be a bus left in Belfast; they'll be burnt. Tony Blair will not just have Osama bin Laden to deal with - Northern Ireland will be out of control".
Since the announcement that they are to be respecified, the UDA have been involved in at least half a dozen further attacks on Catholic homes.
Shortly after Reid announced his decision, it was revealed that David Burnside, the extreme Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim, together with Fred Cobain, Assembly member for North Belfast, had held a secret meeting with UDA and UVF leaders in August. In the face of calls for his resignation from some members of his own party, Burnside insisted that the meeting was "perfectly legitimate", had taken place with the knowledge of David Trimble and that there had been ongoing contact between the UUP and the UDA since the summer. He said that he had told the UDA that that he "didn't believe that violence helped their cause". He did not say that he had told them he thought violence against Catholics was wrong, merely that it was unhelpful.
He also claimed that he and Cobain had been attempting to establish the conditions under which the UDA/UVF would decommission. If true, this claim seriously undermines the UUP's insistence that decommissioning is an absolute requirement and must have no preconditions attached. Such negotiations with the UDA/UVF suggests that the UUP accepts that loyalists can indeed apply preconditions, something it vehemently insists it will not accept of the IRA. Nevertheless, this approach is consistent with the UUP's at best ambiguous, at worst completely schizophrenic attitude to decommissioning.
Burnside said last Thursday (during a speech in which he also advocated that the UUP and DUP should merge) that the party should not accept anything which could be interpreted as "symbolic" by the IRA and that it should in any case force the collapse of the elected Assembly in order to create a more "realistic" model based on that operated in Wales.
Trimble himself has always carefully avoided talking about loyalist paramilitaries when referring to the subject of decommissioning, and has often appeared extremely reluctant to condemn loyalist violence against the nationalist community. His apparent sanctioning of members of his party to engage with the UDA/UVF raises many questions about his claim that the UUP does not deal with paramilitaries. And he does not apparently see any irony, or indeed hypocrisy, in his party relying on the votes of the PUP members of the Assembly - who represent the heavily armed UVF - in its attempts to have Sinn Féin members excluded.
Loyalist attacks on nationalists continue
Since last Tuesday, 9 October, when loyalists jumped from a car in North Belfast and beat a 16-year-old youth, numerous attacks have occurred throughout Belfast.
While most were directed against nationalists, a UDA-organised riot on the Lower Shankill on Thursday 11 October, in which a pipe bomb was thrown at the RUC, led the British Secretary of State to finally declare the UDA ceasefire over.
The Shankill trouble began when the RUC raided a house on Shankill Terrace where they found bomb making material, a pipe bomb, replica weapons and cannabis. One man, David Hinton, was charged in connection with the find.
However, Reid's move only acted as a spur to the UDA. In flashpoint areas such as Newington and Duncairn Gardens, which have borne the brunt of UDA violence in the past year, the UDA threw up to six bombs over the weekend.
In attacks on Tuesday 16 October two pipe bombs exploded close to houses at the junction of Duncairn Gardens and Halliday's Road. The 'peace line' at this junction has been the scene of continuous loyalist incursions into the nationalist Duncairn Gardens area, where both people and property have been attacked.
The most intense of the UDA inspired violence centred on the Limestone Road, close to the Newington area. Sporadic trouble erupted on Saturday afternoon, 13 October, when a gang of loyalists stoned nationalist homes and nationalists retaliated. This trouble lasted a short while and the area was quiet until 5am on Sunday morning.
According to Sinn Féin representative Cathy Stanton, a gang of loyalists from the Tiger's Bay area, wielding hammers and a hatchet, smashed in the window of a house on Limestone Road and damaged a door frame as they tried to break into the house. A 15-year-old who was in the house at the time was wounded when he was struck by the hatchet.
After four further four attacks, a pipe bomb was thrown into a house on Newington Avenue around Noon. The blast smashed a window in the home, which had already been attacked on two previous occasions in the last two weeks. The owner of the house, Breige Burns, was in the home with her 13-year-old son and grandchildren has lived there for 25 years. She now says she is going to move out.
Then, on Monday evening, 15 October, in a sustained assault, pipe bombs and shots were directed at three houses on Newington Street. Three bombs were thrown into one house; two exploded, while the third was defused by the British Army. Four shots were directed at a second house.
In a third attack, the bombers returned and threw a device into the back yard of Breige Burns' home. This bomb blew off the wooden hoarding used to cover the windows after the previous attack.
Cathy Stanton said this second attack on the Burns home was carried out while the woman was in the house collecting some clothes for her grandchildren: "The lights were on so they knew someone was in the house and bombed it again."
The attack on the youth in Alliance Avenue occurred last Tuesday, 9 October, as he walked along with his friends. A silver car which had driven past the youths came back and braked suddenly. Three men jumped out and ran at the youths shouting "get the fenian bastards".
A 16-year-old fell as the group tried to escape and as he lay on the ground he was kicked and beaten. He was treated for cuts and bruising in hospital.
A similar incident occurred on Thursday, 11 October, when a loyalist mob came out of Twaddell Avenue and grabbed a man at the Ardoyne shops. A youth who went to his aid was also savagely beaten. Sinn Féin councillor Margaret McClenaghan told An Phoblacht that local Ardoyne people came out and the loyalists retreated. "When the RUC arrived they threatened to arrest local nationalists," she said.
On Friday 12 October at about 10.30pm, loyalists from the Westland Estate attacked Catholic houses on Westland Road.
Pupils attacked after football match
Members of a soccer team from the Christian Brothers Secondary School in West Belfast were stoned by loyalists as they returned from a match in Dundonald on the outskirts of East Belfast.
The incident occurred last Wednesday, 10 October, as the pupils, who had just played a soccer match against Dundonald High School, were on their way home. As they approached a road bridge near the Ballybean estate, a group of about 20 people, including some pupils from Dundonald High and young adults, let fly at the bus with stones and rocks.
None of the pupils were injured in the attack.
Lucky escape in Ardoyne
The latest UDA attack on nationalists in North Belfast blew the back door of a house on Alliance Avenue off its hinges on Wednesday afternooon, 17 October. The attack happened at about 3pm, just as the children from Holy Cross school and their parents came through the Crown forces' barrier at the junction of Ardoyne Road and Alliance Avenue.
Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin councillor for the area, Margaret McClenaghan, accused the UDA of timing the attack to coincide with the children returning home from school.
"The bomb exploded as the children were coming through the British Army barrier," said McClenaghan, "and the house that was attacked is no more than 100 yards from the British Army barrier".
McClenaghan said that shrapnel was embedded in the walls and ceiling. "The woman who lives in the house was in the sitting room and escaped injury. If she had been in the kitchen there is no doubt she could have been killed or seriously injured," said the Sinn Féin councillor.
Alliance Avenue is a nationalist road on the front line between the nationalist Ardoyne and loyalist Glenbryn estate and has been under constant attack this year. And as Glenbryn loyalists mounted their campaign against nationalist children going to Holy Cross school, so too the UDA campaign against nationalist homes on Alliance Avenue was intensified.
Residents now hope that the peace line that the new 'peace line' British security minister Jane Kennedy announced last week will afford them some protection against these UDA attacks. Experience, however, has shown that it won't.
Sectarian hammer and knife attack
Belfast man Liam Shannon is lucky to be alive. As the 22-year-old and a friend returned home in the early hours of Thursday morning, 11 October, a gang of loyalists attacked the pair with sledgehammers and knives. In the vicious assault, Shannon was hit a number of times with the sledgehammer and was stabbed once in the arm.
The two young men were returning home from a night out in Belfast city centre and were walking along the Westlink, the de facto border between nationalist West Belfast and the loyalist Village area of South Belfast. The pair were on the stretch of the Westlink between Grosvenor Road and Broadway when the loyalist gang, in a white Cavalier car, came up behind them.
The pair began to run but three men jumped from the car and set about Liam Shannon. His friend managed to escape.
The young nationalist received the stab wound when he covered his body with his arm as one of his would be killers aimed the knife at his chest.
Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Browne said he was "concerned that this latest attack is only the beginning of another round of loyalist activity in this area.
"Although in recent times the Village has been quiet compared to other parts of the city, there is a very vicious UDA unit there. In the last two years there have been numerous attacks on nationalists by gangs using knives and hatchets and those targeted were lucky to escape with their lives."
Lurgan taxi driver in bomb attack
A Lurgan taxi driver who believes he was targeted by loyalist bombers is accusing the RUC of not taking the incident seriously.
The man says he was responding to a bogus call in the loyalist Mourneview estate at 3am on Saturday morning 13 October when a pipe bomb was thrown at his car.
The driver says he arrived at the pickup address and noticed the house in darkness. He radioed his base to say he was leaving when he noticed three masked men coming around the corner. The driver was accelerating away when one of the trio threw an object at the car, which exploded and caused a loud explosion.
The man, who was badly shaken by the incident, drove straight to Lurgan RUC barracks to report the incident. As he arrived at the barracks, an RUC mobile patrol was leaving and the man told them of the incident. They in turn told him to go into the barracks but the driver decided to return to his depot and told the RUC they could send someone to see him.
When the RUC got in touch with the man an hour later, an RUC woman said it was probably a firework. As of now, the RUC have yet to visit the man to take a formal statement.
Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan said people are concerned that the RUC are treating the incident so lightly.
"It doesn't take three masked men to throw a firework," said O'Hagan.
The Upper Bann Assembly member has called on the RUC to say whether they carried out a proper search of the scene and if they have established exactly what caused the explosion.