14 November 2002 Edition
Stand by me
BY LAURA FRIEL
Thirty minutes into a 90-minute video record of a summer of unionist violence and unionist complicity against the vulnerable nationalist enclave of Short Strand in East Belfast, the visual images of blast and pipe bombs raining down on the homes of Catholic families is accompanied by the popular song 'Stand by me'.
And that's the message going out throughout the island of Ireland this weekend, with a national day of action in support of the many nationalist areas throughout the north that continue to bear the brunt of anti-Agreement unionism in all its forms, from the rejectionist politicians and the violence of unionist paramilitaries of the UDA and UVF to the complicity of the PSNI.
Over the last two years, vulnerable nationalist residential areas have been systematically targeted by unionist paramilitaries in a dramatic attempt to undermine the peace process. While unionist paramilitaries swelled their own ranks by orchestrating a violent sectarian campaign, under the cover of that violence unionist politicians cynically utilised instability on the streets to destabilise and finally collapse the power-sharing institutions.
In a recent speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed unionist paramilitary violence as "criminal" and therefore outside the remit of political unionism. David Trimble might make opportunistic political mileage out of the violence of his paramilitary supporters but, according to Tony Blair, he and other unionist politicians cannot be held accountable. In sharp contrast, Sinn Féin is to be penalised for the mere existence, no matter how peaceful, of the IRA.
To the beleaguered nationalist communities throughout the north, Tony Blair had little to say other than it could be a lot worse. His characterisation of violence against the nationalist community as marginal, nothing more than a residue of a history already passing, flies in the face of reality as nationalist families and communities experience it on a daily basis.
Statistical evidence of the tens of hundreds of pipe, petrol bomb and gun attacks against nationalist communities offer a clear indication that the peace process has been accompanied not by a decline in unionist violence but a massive increase. Furthermore, the levels of violence have not only risen but they have mirrored growing anti-Agreement rejectionism within political unionism.
Meanwhile in pursuit of their own particular brand of rejectionism the PSNI has consistently failed to protect nationalist communities from the unionist paramilitary onslaught.
It has not been lost on the people of the Short Strand, specifically targeted throughout this summer, that the frequency and ferocity of the violence only declined in the wake of unionist success in collapsing power sharing and the PSNI achieving retention of the reservists.
"We've been political pawns," said a resident, "pushed into the front line in a unionist bid to destroy the peace process." In the front living room of a house in Clandeboye, a resident and her neighbours talk of their continuing ordeal.
"There were fireworks thrown again last night," says a neighbour, "but the violence has been sporadic rather then constant since the beginning of November. Once the UVF decided to put a stop to it, it ended. So much for 'tit-for-tat'."
The residents are scathing about mainstream media coverage. "They tried to portray it as trouble between neighbours but that was just a lie. The people who lived in Cluan Place were moved out by the UVF. The UVF claimed they had 'evacuated' residents for their own 'safety', but the paramilitaries occupied Cluan Place and used it as a platform from which to launch attacks on the nationalist community of Short Strand."
"And the PSNI let them," adds a resident. "It's quieter at the moment but we're still living on our nerves. The fear and tension doesn't vanish. We're all on tenterhooks and there is just enough sporadic attacks to keep us all jumpy."
"I'll never shop on the road again," says a neighbour. "I'll never risk running the gauntlet of loyalists again. They've succeeded in turning the Strand into a ghetto. Many of the shops, owned by Protestant families but used by people from the Strand, have closed down. They lost business during the loyalist blockade. I doubt they'll ever open again."
"We're sleeping more peacefully in our beds at night for the moment but we all know it could blow up again at any time," say a resident. "We're still too afraid to use the back bedrooms. The UVF decided to turn the tap off; they can just as quickly decide to turn it back on."
In the Short Strand Community Centre, local Sinn Féin Councillor Joe O'Donnell sees the security of his neighbourhood bound to the exposure of unionist paramilitary violence as a consequence of the peace process rather than a residual of the past.
"A political unionist agenda was pursued this summer through violence against this small community," says Joe, "and it was neither curtailed by the PSNI nor confronted by the state. We can't afford to let that go unchallenged."
In a video produced by Short Strand residents to highlight their ordeal and due to be officially launched next week, a father is filmed remonstrating with mainstream journalists during the then British Secretary of State John Reid's visit to Short Strand: "Two little 12- year-old girls, Holly and Jessica, were murdered in England and my 12-year-old daughter cried for them. This summer loyalists have tried to murder my daughter 25 times but who is going to cry for her."
Nationalist Communities Under Siege
National Day of Action
Saturday 16 November
To be confirmed. Details Contact Cavan Sinn Féin Office on 049 4373510
Assemble 2pm, Saturday 16 November, Daunt Square.
Letterkenny: Market Square, Letterkenny, 5pm-6pm
Dublin North East/North Central
2.00-3.00pm: White-line picket at Artane Roundabout
11.30am: White-line picket Quarryvale Estate
2pm: White-line picket Castleknock Village
3pm: White-line picket Blanchardstown Village
4pm: White-line picket Roselawn Shopping Centre, Blanchardstown
Dublin North West
3-4pm: White-line picket @ Dick McKee Memorial, Finglas Village
1-3pm: White-line picket Phibsboro Shopping Centre
Dublin South Central
1-2pm: White-line picket @ Walkinstown Roundabout
Dublin South West, Tallaght
Community delegation from Short Strand visiting the area for respite.
For details contact Dublin South West Constituency Office @ 01 4149063
Dublin South, Rathfarnham
For local details contact Paddy @ 087 2551895
Dublin South East
12-2pm: Central Bank, Dame Street
Music, poetry and guest speakers
Sending a delegation to Belfast on the day from Ballinasloe NUI and Loughrea ógra
Candlelit Vigil at Shop Street, Galway City, 5pm-6pm: For Confirmation Ring Daniel Callanan 087 2075663
Ballinamore: Outside Oifig La Nua, 5pm-6pm
Dundalk: Short Strand Picket: Assemble 2pm, Market Square
Castlebar: Pikes Monument, Castlebar, 5pm-6pm
Monaghan Town: The Diamond Monaghan 5-6pm
Clones: The Diamond Clones 5-6pm
Sending a delegation from across the county to Belfast on the day. Remaining activists to travel to Sligo to tie in with their vigil.
To be confirmed. Contact Sligo Sinn Féin on 071 54040
White line pickets will be held outside PSNI barracks across the Six Counties.
1-1.30pm: White line pickets at:
Bottom of the Whiterock
1-1.30pm: White line picket Antrim Road PSNI barracks
Troops Out Movement speaking tour. Speakers from Short Strand & North Belfast with Video Show
Mon 18 Nov 7.30pm - Birmingham, Council House, Victoria Square, City Centre
Tue 19 Nov 7.30pm - Coventry, KOKO Centre, The Arches, Spon End
Wed 20 Nov 7.30pm - Manchester, Friends Meeting House, Mount Street (opp Central Ref. Library, off Albert Square)
Thurs 21 Nov 7.30pm - Preston, University of Central Lancashire, Arts Centre, Fylde Road (next to Students Union)
Fri 22 Nov - 7.30pm - Liverpool, St Michael's Irish Centre, Boundary Road, (off West Derby Road)
Dublin Sinn Féin public meetings series
A series of public meetings have been organised across Dublin over the next two weeks to highlight the ongoing siege of nationalist communities in the Six Counties. Speakers will include residents from nationalist communities under siege and Sinn Féin Assembly members. A short film will be screened detailing the siege of nationalist areas in Belfast.
Dates for Local Area Meetings
Dublin North East/North Central
Monday 18 November
Artane Recreation Centre @ 7.30pm
Tuesday 19 November
The Villager, Chapelizod @ 7.30pm
Dublin North West
Wednesday 20 November
The Hub, DCU, Glasnevin @ 7.30pm
Thursday 21 November
For details contact Cabra Sinn Féin Office @ 01 8381192
Dublin South Central
Wednesday 27 November
For details contact Dublin South Central Constituency Office @ 01 4541868
Dublin South West/South
Thursday 28 November
Fettercairn Community Centre, Tallaght @ 7.30pm
Dublin South East
Friday 29 November
Holiday Inn, Pearse Street @ 7.30pm
Friday 15 November
An independent and community resourced film, "Short Strand Under Siege" will be launched on Friday 15 November @ 7.30pm in the Irish Film Centre, Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Residents from the Short Strand will be in attendance. All welcome.
Screenings will be held at public meetings throughout Dublin over the next fortnight.