5 September 2002 Edition
A triangle of light
BY LAURA FRIEL
For the families living here it has been one endless nightmare of tense days and fearful nights. During the day, children can't play in their back gardens. At night they can't sleep in their beds
Foolishly, as it turned out, I had hoped for better. But in the event, British Secretary of State John Reid stood amid a gaggle of journalists in Clandeboye Drive and mouthed the same old platitudes. An intelligent man might have said he was here to listen and here to learn. But that was not to be.
Instead, Dr Reid adopted the age-old attitude of colonial master and told the natives he knew best. Imagination, humanity and an open mind were all that was required. But Dr Reid knew what he was going to say before he came and the rest was window dressing. "It's just a publicity stunt," said one exasperated resident as he left.
"The British Secretary of State is clearly abdicating his responsibility," said local Sinn Féin Councillor Joe O'Donnell. "Since May, this area has come under nightly attack from loyalists. Last week, the Clandeboye area was saturated with hundreds of British soldiers backed by the RIR and PSNI personnel who, dressed in full riot gear, have intimidated, threatened and verbally abused residents."
A few days earlier, David Trimble had declined to visit Catholic residents in Clandeboye, restricting his concern and his photocall to Protestant Cluan Place. In front of the cameras, an outraged Trimble had held high a golf ball and claimed that it was a missile and it had been thrown from the nationalist Clandeboye area during his visit.
It was a lie. A PSNI officer deployed in Clandeboye admitted as much. I don't know if Trimble knew it was a lie but it provided just the image the First Minster was seeking and opportunism has been the hallmark of Trimble's political career since his meteoric rise through the ranks on the back of Drumcree.
Clearly, with Anti-Agreement unionism snapping at his heels again, the Ulster Unionist leader was less concerned with establishing the truth than enhancing his profile as the defender of unionism and unionists
"There is no doubt whatsoever about the orchestration of the violence that is taking place, some of it by loyalists, most of it by mainstream republicans," said adamant David Trimble.
"The onus of responsibility rests with republicans," said the Loyalist Commission, reiterating the First Minister's words a few days later. Loyalist communities were "suffering from relentless attacks as a direct consequence of republican politically orchestrated tensions", claimed the commission.
In the kitchen of Sinead's Short Strand home, sunlight poured through an open door. Against the pervading darkness of the rest of the house, boarded up after sustained loyalist attack, this small patch of light was a source of delight and comment.
"For four months now we've been living in the dark," says Sinead. "I can't describe the misery of living without natural light."
But this morning, for a few hours at least, Sinead felt safe enough to remove, not completely but just enough, one of three large wooden boards covering her front and patio doors.
The board still stood at right angles against the opening, allowing a triangle of light onto the kitchen floor. The rest of the room remained in shadow but Sinead was cheerfully enjoying the sunlight as she sat with a cup of coffee.
It was the first day of the new school term and the youngest four of Sinead's five daughters were at school. The eldest daughter, 21-year-old Orla and her new baby, moved out of the area last week. With her family safely away, Sinead was making the most of an anxiety-free moment.
Since the loyalist onslaught against this isolated nationalist enclave in East Belfast began last May, normal daily life within the Short Strand has been suspended. "Day and night runs into one another, and one day seems just like the rest," says Sinead, "I lost all sense of time over the summer."
The media's focus on 'interface violence' and its preoccupation with the notion that everything can be explained in terms of 'two rival gangs', 'paramilitaries on both sides' and 'tit-for-tat' has obscured the daily trial of Catholic families living in this isolated enclave in East Belfast.
Most of the facilities on which the community relies, doctors, dentists, clinics, a chemist, a post office and local shops, are located just outside the area. After weeks of loyalist intimidation, the people of Short Strand are too afraid to use these local facilities.
The campaign began earlier in the year when mothers collecting their child benefit from the local post office or taking their children to the nearby clinic were confronted by loyalist mobs and pelted with flour and eggs. 'Taigs' should 'stay off the road', the mob decreed.
Soon, local shopkeepers, threatened by loyalist paramilitaries, were too afraid to serve Catholics. Despite the fact that people from the Strand had been their customers for many years and they know many by name, the shopkeepers said they were afraid they would lose their businesses if they defied the mob's ban.
In Belfast, Catholics are routinely required to pass themselves off as non-Catholics if they are to avail of the city's facilities. It's a pragmatic if degrading practice by a community living under constant sectarian threat. But even this subterfuge was unavailable to the people of Short Strand.
"We're such a small community," says Sinead, "everyone knows us; we're easily identified." Graffiti daubed on walls reiterated the loyalist message of hate; "Short Strand Taigs keep out" or "At your own risk".
Loyalist tactics soon escalated into violence and death threats. In one incident, a loyalist mob forced their way into a nearby college and interrogated terrified pupils as they tried to identify Catholics.
The mob made 'suspects' recite their Alphabet in the belief that they could spot a 'Taig' by their pronunciation of the letters 'A' and 'H'. Following the incident, Catholic pupils never returned and those due to sit exams were relocated.
For the last four months, Catholic homes in the Strand have been coming under repeated and concerted attack by loyalist mobs that had 'evacuated' residents from the Protestant Cluan Place. From the onset, the Catholics of Clandeboye knew it wasn't their Protestant neighbours who were attacking them, but loyalists who had occupied their homes.
"We knew our neighbours," said one resident, "and their faces weren't the ones at the windows."
The continuing ferocity of loyalist attacks has left Catholic homes without proper repair. Housing Executive workers attempting to secure roofing tiles, smashed in the endless bombardment, were often attacked by loyalists throwing stones, bricks, fireworks, blast, pipe and petrol bombs.
For the families living here it has been one endless nightmare of tense days and fearful nights. During the day, children can't play in their back gardens. At night they can't sleep in their beds.
"I've ran my children out of their home wearing helmets and carrying umbrellas to protect them from the bombardment," says Sinead. "It's shameful children running the gauntlet in their pyjamas, forced to sleep elsewhere."
Last Wednesday, Sinead's home came under pipe and petrol bomb attack. "The children were afraid and one of my daughters became hysterical," says Sinead.
"I told them they were safe in the house and there was nothing to worry about but I was lying. Lying to my own children made me feel humiliated, knowing I couldn't protect them and fearing if the house went up we'd all be trapped."
The Catholic community in the Short Strand have always been treated like second-class citizens but this summer they became non-citizens. They have been systematically striped of all the trappings of citizenship, not only by the loyalist mobs who have attacked every aspect of their daily life but also by the institutions of the state that have failed to protect them.
Unlike North Belfast, nationalist homes in the Short Strand do not stand in close proximity to Protestant neighbourhoods. The town planners and developers have already successfully pursued a strategy of isolating this small nationalist community.
The single exception is Cluan, where a few Protestant residents have lived in relative harmony with their Catholic neighbours throughout many years of open conflict. Are we now to believe, as loyalists claim, that within the last four months they have inexplicably become the focus of aggression in the midst of a peace process?
Such a notion has even less credibility in the face of one small fact. A quarter of the families living in Clandeboye are mixed marriages of Catholic and Protestant couples. Clearly, they have no sectarian axe to grind. No one is suggesting there is any hostility between Catholics and Protestants living within the Short Strand.
A decision by the PSNI or British Army to throw a couple of jeeps across the entrance to Cluan would have been sufficient to thwart the invasion of hundreds of loyalists from the outlying districts, who have utilised the proximity of Cluan to the Strand to launch their sectarian attacks while peddling the myth that their actions were in defence of a Protestant area.
A decision by the media to expose the loyalist lie and to report the full extent of loyalist violence and intimidation would have been sufficient to force the British government to take appropriate action.
A decision by unionist politicians to stand up to Anti-Agreement unionism and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the right of everyone to live free from sectarian harassment would have sufficient to deny violent loyalism the tacit political support which 'justifies' their continuing sectarian campaign. But none of these decisions have been taken.
"I've never felt so alone," says Sinead, "so vulnerable and demoralised. I feel deserted by everyone. The PSNI won't protect us and the media won't report the fact that they aren't protecting us. The British Army swamp the area dressed in full riot gear, putting us under virtual curfew and imposing martial law.
"The people of the Strand desperately need to feel they have the support of other nationalist communities throughout the city. We're at a low ebb, emotionally and physically exhausted, even small gestures of help would be welcome. We need to know there will be some light at the end of the tunnel."
Sustained Ardoyne attacks
In the latest sectarian attack in North Belfast, a Catholic family had a narrow escape after loyalists threw a nail bomb into the back yard of their Wyndham Street home in North Belfast at around 11.50pm on Tuesday 3 September.
The family were badly shaken after the device exploded. This was the second attack to be carried out against the area in a week.
In a separate attack, at 2pm on Tuesday, loyalists attempted to knock down a nationalist woman as she crossed at a zebra crossing in North Queen Street at the New Lodge Road area. The woman said the occupants of the car shouted sectarian abuse as they sped off towards the loyalist Tiger's Bay.
Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy criticised the RUC/PSNI who took over an hour to arrive at the scene, even though a massive RUC/PSNI barracks is just 400 yards away.
From Thursday 29 August, loyalists were attacking houses in Alliance Avenue. They also returned to attacking houses at Wyndham Street, which borders the loyalist Torrens area. In this series of attacks, pipe bombs, petrol bombs and stones were used. During a petrol attack on a home in Alliance, a nine-year-old girl had to be taken to hospital after her home was set alight.
Over the next three nights, homes on Alliance Avenue were under constant attack from the loyalist Glenbryn with petrol bombs and missiles. On Saturday night, 31 August, a taxi driver says a group of loyalists who had gathered at the end of Heskith Road pointed an AK47 assault rifle at him as he drove past.
Then on Sunday night, an attempt was made to burn down Our Lady of Mercy primary school after flammable liquid was thrown into the building.
Antrim Catholic fights for life
A Catholic teenager is fighting for his life after being struck on the back of the head with a hatchet in a savage attack by members of the Ulster Young Militants (UYM), the youth wing of the UDA.
Fifteen-year-old Michael Craig, from the Folly area of Antrim town, was attacked as he stood outside shops with a group of friends close to Greystone Primary School at around 11.30pm on Friday 30 August.
The teenager was with five friends, three Protestants and two Catholics, when a crowd of loyalists from the Stiles Estate rushed them. Five of the friends managed to escape but Craig was struck on the head with the hatchet before collapsing on a nearby green. He remains in a critical condition in The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast with his parents at his bedside.
The vicious and unprovoked assault happened not far from where 19-year-old Catholic Ciaran Cummins was shot dead last year by the UDA.
Antrim Sinn Féin Councillor Martin McManus, speaking to An Phoblacht, said: "This sectarian attack was carried out by around 40 youths who are members of the UYM operating out of the Stiles Estate. They have been involved in serious sectarian violence in Antrim for months and this attack is a clear indication that they are upping the ante against nationalists."
Three teenagers have been charged with attempted murder and another teenager has been charged with wounding with intent. All have been remanded in custody.
Sinn Féin organised a rally in response to this sectarian attack and the ongoing sectarianism in Antrim. Party representative áine Gribbon said that Sinn Féin will be holding a series of rallies to highlight loyalist violence in the area and to expose the RUC/PSNI. The first will be on Sunday 8 September outside Antrim RUC/PSNI barracks at 7.30pm. She called on the SDLP and the Mayor of Antrim, Mervyn Rea, to support the rally.
Catholic men escape death bid
Two Catholic men in their 30s escaped almost certain death last Sunday after a UDA gunman tried to shoot them.
The sectarian attack happened at around 3.30pm on Sunday 1 September at an alleyway at the bottom of Winston Way in Coleraine, County Derry. The men were sitting on a bench when the masked loyalist approached them and pulled a small black machine gun from under his coat.
According to a friend of the men, who had spoken to them just minutes before the failed attack, the loyalist pointed his weapon at them but it jammed as he was about to open fire. The man says the loyalist pulled the trigger twice and when the gun failed to fire, ran off into the predominately loyalist Winston Way area.
"The two men were very badly shaken by this sectarian attack," he said. "We could have been getting ready for two funerals if the gun had not jammed. Everybody is in no doubt that this was a UDA murder bid on Catholics."
This attempted killing was only the latest in a series of UDA attacks in the County Derry town. Only last week, a family had a lucky escape when a UDA gang fired two shots through their front door in the Harpers Hill area.
"These latest attacks came about after a new mural, to commemorate UDA man William Campbell, was unveiled. Campbell died when the bomb he was handling went off in Winston Way just yards from this attack," said our source.
In the past number of years, the UDA's Derry and North Antrim Brigade have increased the number of attacks against Catholics and their homes in Coleraine.
SDLP mayor lucky to be alive
Loyalists aborted an attack on SDLP East Derry Assembly member John Dallat on Sunday night, 1 September, according to reports. Two hooded men wearing boiler suits and carrying a holdall were seen near the Kilrea home of the SDLP member.
Dallat, who last year became the first nationalist mayor of Coleraine Borough Council, had received loyalist death threats in the past. His home address telephone number and mobile telephone number appeared on a loyalist website last year after he spoke out against websites linked to loyalist paramilitaries.
Following Sunday night's murder attempt on two Catholics in Coleraine, nationalists say that sectarian attacks in Coleraine carried out by the Derry and North Antrim Brigade of the UDA have increased.
In the last three years, there have been over 200 loyalist attacks, including 11 shootings, six pipe bombings and three petrol bombings in the area.
In June last year, loyalists killed 25-year-old John McCormick in the Ballysally area of Coleraine despite the fact that RUC/PSNI members visited McCormick and warned him that his life was in danger. The family home was pipe bombed by loyalists a month before he was killed.
On 2 August last month, Catholic student Chris Whitson died from his injuries after he was savagely beaten by loyalists outside Kelly's nightclub in nearby Portrush.
Sinn Féin's East Derry representative, Francie Brolly, told An Phoblacht that "loyalist attacks will continue to increase until unionist politicians and church leaders start speaking out against such sectarianism".
Parish priest Father Sean Rogan has said that sectarian attacks on churches are now a regular occurrence after Saint Patrick's Church in Lisburn was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning 1 September.
Two stained glass windows and ornamental lights were smashed and plants in the garden around the church were pulled out of the ground and scattered around the building.
"These were no children who carried out this attack as it was basalt boulders pulled from the ground which were thrown at the Church. It is an anti-Catholic element in Lisburn who is carrying out these attacks", said the priest.
Fr Rogan went on to say that nearly every Sunday morning he has to clean up broken glass from bottles thrown at the chapel the night before. All four Catholic churches in the Lisburn area have been burned down in the past and only six weeks ago Saint Joseph's had sectarian graffiti daubed on it.
Sinn Féin councillor for Lisburn, Paul Butler, is compiling a report of sectarian attacks carried out against Catholics in the Lisburn area to be submitting to the Dublin government.
PSNI dismiss bullet threat
Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast, Sue Ramsey, has hit out at the RUC/PSNI after they told a Twinbrook nationalist that a loyalist threat against him wasn´t worth investigating.
Two weeks ago, the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, received a bullet and a threat in the post, which read, "see you soon scumbag - UFF". The man passed the threat and the bullet on to Ramsey before reporting it to the RUC\PSNI. However they told him that the threat wasn´t worth investigating, adding that Ramsey would be arrested and charged if she was found to have the bullet.
Ramsey told An Phoblacht that the man contacted her as he was afraid that his name and address had been passed onto loyalists by RUC/PSNI Special Branch in the first place. She also said that the man had seen his solicitor, who advised him to contact the RUC/PSNI about the threat.
Loyalists bomb Portadown garage
Sinn Féin councillor for Portadown, Brian McKeown, has called on the RUC/ PSNI to say whether the device which exploded at Lavery's Garage on the Corcrain Road in the town on Tuesday night, 3 September, was similar to a device used by loyalists to destroy two Catholic-owned businesses in Portadown in September 1998.
The bomb was placed by loyalists beside a diesel pump at the rear of the filling station and exploded.
"Contrary to what's being said to the media, the bomb was strategically placed beside the pump to cause the maximum effect, but luckily the loyalists mistook the diesel pump for a petrol one," said McKeown.
"Catholic homes are less the 200 yards away and if the bomb had exploded at the petrol pump, we could have been looking at deaths," he added. The Sinn Féin councillor criticised the fact that it took the RUC/PSNI one and a half hours to cordon off the area.
Tuesday's bomb attack happened less that 70 yards from where loyalists mounted a gun attack on the home of a Catholic family in July, narrowly missing a teenage girl.
Bandsman assaults tourist
A German tourist suffered eye and head injuries when he was assaulted by a loyalist bandsman as he attempted to cross Great Victoria Street in Belfast city centre on Saturday 31 August.
Toni Bausenhart told how he was set upon by the UVF thug who broke free from one of the bands marching under a UVF banner as he watched the loyalist Black Perceptory marchers return from parades that occurred throughout the North.
The violent attack happened on the last day of Bausenhart's four-week sightseeing holiday. "I would not let one stupid person ruin my trip," he said.
BBC staff at the nearby Blackstaff studios administered first aid to the badly shocked tourist.
Loyalists attack Armagh supporters
Loyalist targeted Armagh GAA fans just outside Portadown as they travelled home on trains and buses from Croke Park after the All-Ireland semi final against Dublin on Sunday 1 September.
One train was several hundred yards from Portadown railway station when a rock was thrown through a window where children were sitting. One passenger suffered cuts and bruises. One Armagh fan said that everybody got on the floor as they didn't know what would be thrown next. "The children were all covered in glass, they were very lucky not to be seriously injured," said the witness.
According to a spokesperson for Translink, the north's transport authority, a second train carrying Armagh supporters "encountered a fire on the line just outside Portadown station".
According to passengers on the train, burning wooden pallets had been placed across the track and a gang of loyalists armed with sticks were waiting to attack the train if it slowed down. "It was very sinister," said one man. "If the train had slowed down we could have all been attacked."
A bus carrying Armagh football fans was also attacked by loyalists outside Markethill in County Armagh. The windscreen and windows of the bus were broken and two teenagers were injured after being showered with glass. The youths suffered cuts to their head and arms, respectively.
UDA target Catholic cars in Derry
Loyalists damaged up to nine cars in the Clooney Estate in Derry during the early hours of Monday 2 September in a sectarian attack. Vehicles had their tyres slashed by the loyalist gang, who launched their attack from Lincoln Court.
One resident said that neighbours heard people in her street at around 2.30am and when her brother returned from work at 5am cars throughout the street had been vandalised. "All four tyres on our car had been slashed and I know several of my neighbours' cars are in the same position."
Sinn Féin councillor for the area Lynn Fleming blamed the attack on the UDA.