20 December 2001 Edition
Let us have peace for Christmas
In the courtyard stand two wheelie bins filled with water. After sundown neighbours take turns to act as watch out. At a prearranged signal, the sound of a siren, residents come out of their homes.
These are the few simple measures with which Catholic families living in the isolated Longlands estate, on the outskirts of North Belfast, are trying to protect their homes and families from persistent sectarian attack.
"We feel like the forgotten people up here, nobody cares what is going on," says local resident, Tommy.
There are just over a couple of dozen houses and a handful of flats in Longlands. The nearest nationalist estates are Bawnmore, adjacent to Longlands, housing about a hundred families and, further down the road, Whitewell, another Catholic enclave.
But this is a predominantly loyalist area, engulfed by the sprawling Rathcoole estate, New Mosley and White City, a loyalist estate adjacent to Longlands and separated only by the Arthur Bridge.
"We are being attacked with paint bombs, petrol bombs and pipe bombs," says Sarah, another local.
Sectarian attacks have always been an aspect of life here, but in recent years loyalist attacks on nationalist homes and families have been both more persistent and orchestrated. And it all began with Drumcree.
"Whenever Orangemen were prevented from walking down the Garvaghy Road," says Tommy, "loyalists attacked Catholic homes here."
At first, the attacks lasted for a couple of weeks at the height of the Orange marching season, then it stretched to a couple of months during the summer holidays. This year, summer changed to autumn and autumn into winter and the attacks continued.
"We've endured six months of nightly attacks," says Sarah, "and there have been no let ups". And in the front line are the residents of Longlands Court. On the edge of the estate and built below the level of the approach road, the Court is an easy target for loyalists standing on the bridge.
Here, the houses are scarred with the evidence of persistent attack; paint splattered brickwork, boarded windows, broken roof tiles, smashed guttering. The most serious attacks have involved up to fifty loyalists.
"The UDA is behind this," says Tommy, "and many of those involved have been recruited into the UDA's youth wing, the Ulster Young Militants."
One young family has borne the brunt of loyalist attacks. The couple and their eighteen-month-old baby sleep with a fire extinguisher in the bedroom of their second-floor flat.
"There is only one door out of here and no fire escape," says Sarah, "the neighbours gave us the extinguisher because they were afraid for our safety too."
But it's not just loyalists with a sectarian agenda that are making these families lives a misery. The RUC/PSNI have consistently failed to effectively curtail loyalist activities. Indeed, residents complain that RUC/PSNI officers are not only disinterested; at times they are openly hostile. During a recent incident, a number of women were injured after remonstrating with RUC/PSNI officers turned their batons against them.
Earlier this month the residents of Longlands held a picket on Arthur Bridge to highlight their plight. In a photograph, a young girl holds a hand written placard with a question for the RUC/PSNI - "Why to you hit us and hate us?". "Give us peace before Christmas," reads the placard of a boy standing beside her.
Belfast court attack
A 20-year-old man, charged in connection with the killing of Thomas McDonald, at White City on the outskirts of North Belfast, in September, was attacked in Belfast Magistrates Court last week.
Patrick Auld was in the court hallway when he was set upon by five or six men, believed to be loyalists. Auld is charged with making a false statement in relation to the killing of teenager Thomas McDonald, who was run over.
At the time, McDonald was said to have attacked a car coming out of the Catholic Longlands estate, and the driver chased him before he was hit with the car and killed.
The incident in the court came to light after Auld's solicitor criticised the lack of security in the court.
UDA attack County Derry family
The home of a Catholic family at Articlave, near Coleraine in County Derry, was the latest to be targeted by loyalist bombers last week.
The attack on the family's Woodend home occurred at around 5am on Thursday morning, 13 December, when the loyalist bombers left a pipe bomb at the house.
The device exploded, causing some damage to the home, but none of the family, a couple and their three children, was injured.
According to reports, the bomb was sophisticated and potentially lethal. This is the latest loyalist attack to be carried out on the Coleraine area, where loyalists have been particularly active recently.
Just last month a former republican prisoners was shot at, when loyalists followed him out of Ballycastle, where he worked, and opened fire. In a second attack, within days of the Ballycastle shooting, a Catholic worker was shot in the hand at Clady, in County Derry, as he waited for a lift to work.
A 19-year-old man from nearby Castlerock, near to where the attack occurred, was charged in connection with the bombing.