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15 November 2001 Edition

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Loyalist pipe bomber dies


"I'm sorry about the boy who died but I blame the men that gave him the bomb to throw and I'm afraid the loyalists will take it out on us."
Last week a Protestant teenager was fatally injured when a pipe bomb exploded in his hand. The youth, who was due to celebrate his 17th birthday this week, died a short time later in a nearby hospital.

Glen Branagh, from Mountcollyer Avenue in North Belfast, was a distant relative of Shakespearean actor and film director Kenneth Branagh.

Apart from the Branagh name and the fact that they shared a common birthplace, the notorious loyalist Tigers Bay, there are few parallels to be drawn between the successful actor and the boy training to be a store man.

In 1970, after Catholic neighbours and friends of the family were firebombed out of their homes, Kenneth Branagh's family left Belfast and moved to England. The extended Branagh family stayed in Tigers Bay.

It was 11 November, a day of particular significance for the unionist community in the north of Ireland, Remembrance Sunday, the day the British state commemorates its war dead.

In North Queen Street, where the nationalist New Lodge meets the loyalist Tigers Bay, local residents went about their normal business of a Sunday afternoon. A short distance away, loyalists returning from Poppy Day parades adjourned to a local UDA pub.

Shortly after 4pm, loyalists wearing their poppies and carrying paramilitary flags marched into the nationalist New Lodge Road and attacked Catholic homes in North Queen Street. "I was in my house with my 15-year-old son when we saw men in white shirts with black ties and wearing poppies coming towards us," says Catholic resident Belinda Lawlor.

A number of known loyalists, prominent in the Glenbryn blockade of Catholic Holy Cross Primary School, were among the mob. Many were visibly intoxicated.

According to local people the RUC/PSNI who were present at the time of the incursion initially made no attempt to intervene as loyalists smashed their way into two houses and attempted to enter several more.

"I was so frightened, as I've had my windows broken more times than I can remember and I was beaten up by four loyalists last year," says Belinda.

In the doorway of one house, a resident was hit in the face with a brick. The injured householder was later taken to hospital, where medics were unable to save the sight in one eye.

When the RUC and British Army arrived in force, they fired nine plastic bullets, injuring a 10-year-old Catholic schoolboy in the leg and a 14-year-old Catholic girl in the stomach.

Patricia Kelly collapsed at the doorway of a neighbouring house before being rushed to hospital where she was given morphine and treated for internal injuries. The teenager's mother, Angela Kelly, who lives close to the spot where the last child to be killed by a plastic bullet, Seamus Duffy, was shot dead by the RUC, feared the worst. "When I heard Patricia had been shot with a plastic bullet," says Angela, "I thought she was dead." Patricia was standing in the garden of a house in North Queen Street at the moment of the attack.

Nationalist fears that the transformation of the RUC into the new Police Service of Northern Ireland is unlikely to herald any real change were further fuelled after it was revealed that the PSNI, at a cost of £300,000, is to take delivery of 52,000 plastic bullet rounds, almost as many as have been fired during the last 30 years of repression.

As darkness fell in North Queen Street the RUC/PSNI and British Army had pushed the loyalist mob back to the edge of Tigers Bay while nationalist residents were being held in Spamount Street, a side street off the main road.

Emerging from a crowd of loyalist rioters, a figure wearing a distinctive mask raised his arm to throw an object that was fizzing in his hand. There was a loud explosion and the figure fell to the ground.

Glen Branagh was rushed to hospital with serious injuries to his head, arm and hand but died a short time later. In a transparent attempt to disguise the fact that the youth had died as he was attempting to inflict injury and death, loyalists claimed nationalists had thrown the device.

Loyalist Eddie McClean claimed the trouble had started after nationalists had disrupted a remembrance rervice in North Queen Street and vehemently denied that the teenager was preparing to throw the bomb when it exploded.

"The bomb was thrown from the republican side. He picked it up to throw it away when it exploded. Glen saw the device thrown from the nationalist side and was calling for the area to be cleared. He lifted it and shouted at people to get out of the way. He died a hero," said McClean.

It's a clever lie but it's still a lie. Glen Branagh didn't die defending his community; he died while attempting to inflict death and injury on his Catholic neighbours. Even the RUC/PSNI have admitted as much.

Senior officer Alan McQuillan said the youth had been seen running through a Protestant crowd carrying a fizzing pipe bomb. Trouble had flared, said McQuillan, after a day of heavy drinking by loyalists in bars along North Queen Street.

Glen Branagh was not an innocent victim, but he was a victim nevertheless. Within hours of his death, senior loyalists confirmed that the teenager was a member of the Ulster Young Militants, the UDA's youth wing. Within hours of the explosion, loyalist paramilitary flags were erected at the spot where the 16-year-old had been fatally injured.

Over the past two years, the UDA and UVF have been actively recruiting hundreds of teenagers in loyalist areas. According to a Shankill loyalist, there are up to 4,000 members of UYM across the North.

A corollary to this recruitment campaign has been an upsurge in sectarian violence. Within the last year, loyalist attacks on Catholic homes and families have occurred almost daily. These attacks have included over 300 pipe bomb attacks.

Tragically, the young people, who according to UDP spokesperson John White are flocking to join violent loyalism, are being encouraged to define themselves as anti-Catholic rather than positively Protestant. Within this discourse, loyalists persistently evoke the status of victim even where, as in the case of Glen Branagh or the Glenbryn protestors blockading Holy Cross School, they are the perpetrators.

In his film version of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', Kenneth Branagh sustains a tension found within the novel in which the monster played by Robert De Niro is never innocent but is arguably a victim.

Loyalist violence is as ugly as Frankenstein's creation but the truly monstrous are those whose purposes the creature sustains. British occupation with its loyalist death squads and state murder by proxy; unionist politicians who offer no alternative and a compliant media who feed the myths that keep loyalist violence alive.

"I'm sorry about the boy who died but I blame the men that gave him the bomb to throw," says Brenda, "and I'm afraid the loyalists will take it out on us."

Less than two hours after Glen Branagh was fatally injured, loyalist gunmen fired from a passing car at four Catholic teenagers standing at a bus shelter in the Fortwilliam area of North Belfast. In a second attack, a lone guman from Tiger's Bay crossed into the Docks area and fired a single shot into the Clarendon Bar on the corner of Garmoyle Street and Dock Street. No one was injured in either attack.

"We're only defending our area," a young loyalist told the media. "We'll wait until after his funeral (Glen Branagh) and then we'll whack back."

Loyalists try to kill Catholic in Derry

A 35-year-old Catholic labourer had a narrow escape when a masked loyalist opened fire on him as he sat in the cab of his lorry in the Waterside area of Derry last Thursday, 8 November.

The Donegal man, a construction worker, was on site in Rossdowney Drive, in a part of Derry that is predominantly unionist, when he spotted the loyalist in his wing mirror.

The gunman was wearing a white mask or scarf over his face and was about 15-20 feet away from the cab of the lorry when he opened fire.

The Catholic man later said that he instinctively leaned back against the seat as the bullets shattered the windows of his cab. Although not wounded, he was badly shaken by the incident.

It is believed that up to six or seven shots were fired.

The gunman then lowered the gun and walked off in the opposite direction, towards the rear of Lincoln Courts estate, said the victim.

The shooting is the latest attack in a campaign of UDA violence against Catholics in the Waterside.

Just two weeks ago, the home of SDLP councillor Gerard Diver, which is less than a mile away from the shooting, was badly damaged in a loyalist pipe bomb attack.

No link to Strabane killing

Sinn Féin councillor for the Waterside area Lynn Fleming speaking to An Phoblacht discounted speculation that this latest shooting was carried out in retaliation for the killing of Charles Folliard in Strabane ten days ago.

Folliard, a former loyalist prisoner with links to the UDA, was shot dead in Strabane and it believed a splinter republican group was behind the killing.

Fleming pointed out that the UDA had been very active in the Waterside in the past year and would probably continue its activities. "To say this attempt to kill this Catholic man was an act of retaliation is to ignore the previous history of UDA activity," she said.

Former POW targeted in gun attack

Ballymoney Sinn Féin councillor Philip McGuigan reports that a former republican POW had a lucky escape in a loyalist murder bid as he drove between Ballycastle and Armoy on Tuesday night, 13 November. "The man was lucky to escape with his life last night," McGuigan told An Phoblacht.

In recent weeks, the former POW has been visited on three separate occasions by the RUC and told that his life is in danger and advised that he should move house and leave his job. As is normal in such instances, the RUC refused to reveal the nature of the threats or organisation behind them.

On Tuesday night, the man noticed people acting suspiciously in his place of work and later on after closing the premises he noticed that a car was following him. The ex-POW sped up and the car behind also sped up. If he slowed down, the car behind slowed down. The occupants of the following car then sped up and came alongside and fired a number of shots from an automatic weapon, possibly a submachine gun or assault rifle.

"It was only the man's vigilance that saved his life," said McGuigan. "I would urge all nationalists and republicans throughout the North Antrim area to remain vigilant in the coming days. There has been a marked increase in loyalist activity, including the attempt to bomb the Lammas Fair. Only last week a bomb was left at a house on the Whitepark Road."

McGuigan also said that after the shooting the man contacted the RUC/NIPS, who told him they only had one car available in the Ballycastle/Armoy area. "Outside of North Belfast the UDA are most active in the North Antrim yet the RUC only had one car available in the whole area," said McGuigan. "It shows just how serious they are taking the UDA threat to nationalists in North Antrim."



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