4 April 2002 Edition
Sectarian attacks intensify in North Belfast
The sectarian violence in North Belfast over the last number of weeks intensified over the Easter weekend when on Saturday 30 March a group of around 50 loyalists invaded the beleaguered nationalist community of the New Lodge and attempted to erect loyalist flags along the nationalist end of North Queen Street.
This trouble, orchestrated by senior UDA figures from the Tiger's Bay area, was the prelude to a series of attacks which saw houses attacked at the Limestone Road, a youth stabbed three times in the head and a woman dragged from her car and severely beaten by loyalist thugs.
The weekend also saw the RUC/PSNI use the trouble as an excuse to vent their bigotry on nationalist residents of the New Lodge and Limestone areas. As the RUC/PSNI moved into both areas, they turned their batons on nationalists, beating two women about the head and body and assaulting a man who lost his eye in a loyalist attack last November. They also viciously beat Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy.
Brophy told An Phoblacht: "The trouble erupted after about 40 to 50 loyalists, led by a well known loyalist, tried to take down Tricolours and replace them with UDA flags at around 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
"Hearing that the loyalists had come into the district, a nationalist crowd gathered. Then the Crown forces arrived and immediately faced down the nationalists. It was while I was negotiating with the senior RUC/PSNI figure on the ground, in an attempt to get them to withdraw, that I was beaten. The attack on me was unprovoked."
It was at this point that an RUC/PSNI Land Rover smashed through a security gate in front of nationalist homes on North Queen Street and an RUC/PSNI squad went through and batoned residents Jim and Odette Harvey.
A second woman, Donna Miskimmon, then approached the RUC/PSNI to find out if her son had been arrested and was being held in a Land Rover. An RUC/PSNI member laid into her, beating her about the legs and body with a baton.
The RUC/PSNI then realised their actions were being video recorded and moved to capture the tape. In the ensuing chase, they smashed their way into a house and caused damage to an inside door and threw framed pictures onto the ground, destroying them.
In the aftermath of the Crown forces' behaviour, nationalist youths became involved in serious rioting, during which petrol bombs were thrown. A number of cars were also burnt out. The Crown forces fired at least four plastic bullets in the disturbances.
Brophy slammed the RUC/ PSNI and British Army for what he called " heavy-handed tactics. The responsibility for this trouble lies fairly and squarely with the loyalists and the Crown forces".
Brophy explained that during the whole afternoon of trouble, a flute band played Orange songs from behind the Crown forces' lines while loyalists stoned nationalists unhindered.
Later on Saturday, the loyalists involved in the New Lodge attacks turned their attention to nationalist homes at Newington Street and attacked them with bricks and bottles.
Then on Monday morning, 1 April, in two separate incidents, loyalists attacked a Protestant youth and a Catholic woman at the junction of Tigers Bay and Duncairn Gardens. One of the gang was wearing in a Celtic top. The loyalists stopped the 17-year-old Protestant youth who was on his way to work in the Yorkgate Complex and asked him his religion. Thinking he was being confronted by Catholics, the petrified teenager said he was a Catholic, only to be attacked and stabbed three times in the head.
Earlier, a Catholic woman was savagely beaten and pulled from her car when loyalists, believed to be the same gang, assaulted her. One of those involved was also wearing a Celtic top. According to an eyewitness who spoke to An Phoblacht, the RUC/PSNI saw the attackers make their way into Tiger's Bay but refused to pursue them.
Sinn Féin's Gerard Brophy appealed for people travelling on their own to remain vigilant. "It seems clear that the UDA are using Celtic jerseys to lure nationalist into potentially deadly situations," he said.
Meanwhile, loyalists threw a pipe bomb at nationalists during trouble on the Limestone Road on Monday night, 1 April. Sinn Féin councillor Eoin Ó Broin said the latest wave of sectarian violence began when a loyalist mob attacked nationalist homes in Park End Street. The pipe bomb had exploded but nobody was injured. Ó Broin said Sinn Féin and the residents had been working hard all day to try and ease tensions but had come under attack again by loyalists. "There seems to be an attempt by loyalist to keep the pot boiling," he said.
Provocative Apprentice Boys march
Sinn Féin councillor Eoin Ó Broin has accused the loyalist Apprentice Boys organisation of provocation after a march by the Ligoniel Walkers Club paraded past Ardoyne on Monday morning 1 April.
Tension in the Ardoyne area was tense as hundreds of Crown forces personnel moved into Ardoyne and threw up a cordon in front of the shops to allow the loyalist parade to pass. A crowd of loyalists from the Twaddell Avenue area came out onto the Crumlin Road, adding to the tension.
Prior to the march, the Crown forces threw up a security cordon at the junction of the Woodvale Road and the Crumlin Road, claiming they had uncovered a bomb.
After a security operation lasting an hour, the device turned out to be a hoax.
As the loyalist parade approached the Ardoyne shops, nationalists residents voiced their protedst.
A UVF band from East Belfast, formed in 1969, accompanied the Ligoniel Walkers club. "Residents are angry that the modern day UVF, which this band supports, has been responsible for death and injury of many nationalists from this area over the last 30 years of conflict. For anyone to suggest that this parade is not insulting is to ignore reality," said Ó Broin.