21 November 2002 Edition
Short Strand video launched as attacks resume
BY LAURA FRIEL
While life for the majority of people has improved with the Good Friday Agreement, for nationalists in vulnerable areas like Short Strand, it has become a great deal worse, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told the press at the launch of a community-made video highlighting the ongoing unionist paramilitary campaign of violence against the Short Strand.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a recent speech admitted as much when he said the victims of the latest pipe bomb attacks were those who lived in the Short Strand or North Belfast.
"Words about progress seem hollow," Adams reminded his audience. "And they are hollow if you live in a vulnerable nationalist area like this."
As Adams addressed the hall, film footage of nightly attacks that have been endured by the people of Short Strand for over six months added substance to his words. In the video, the periodic flash of pipe bombs filled the screen, momentarily lighting the Strand's roads and walkways with an eerie green light, capturing not only the lethal potential of this weapon but also the panic it evokes.
"I have launched hundreds of books, paintings and other creative projects undertaken by individuals and communities," said Adams, "but I take no pleasure in launching this video." Praising the community, Adams recounted a visit to the area a fortnight ago when he listened to a group of local women.
"These were strong independent women, mature in their political thinking, who recognised the ongoing attacks on their community by unionist paramilitaries as reaction against change," said Adams.
Adams recognised that many journalists were just ordinary people trying to do a job but he said residents who had been kept awake all night because their homes were under constant attack were further frustrated by media representations in which victims were portrayed as perpetrators and orchestrated unionist paramilitary attacks against vulnerable nationalist areas were described as 'tit-for-tat'.
"Editors have an obligation to report what is happening here and happening in other communities suffering ongoing campaigns of sectarian violence," said Adams. The Sinn Féin President pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement recognised the freedom to choose place of residence and the freedom from sectarian harassment.
Adams paid particular tribute to the people involved in filming the video, the camera men and women who clearly showed considerable bravery in filming while under the constant possibility of personal injury, not only from loyalist pipe bombers but also from members of the PSNI and hostile British soldiers.
"At one point in the video, the person holding the camera is clearly being attacked and beaten by the PSNI while filming," said Adams.
The video also exposes the complicity of state forces. "Time after time the footage shows loyalists unchallenged by or filtering through the ranks of the PSNI and British Army," said Adams, "and lines of British soldiers and PSNI officers facing the nationalist community with their backs to loyalist aggressors."
It was time the two governments, particularly the British government, took steps to stop this, said Adams. The issue would be central to any forthcoming talks. "I take no pleasure in launching this video, but I do feel enormous admiration for the courage and fortitude of the people of the Short Strand and other nationalist communities of North Belfast and further afield for whom the Good Friday Agreement has brought no improvements and who have been paying the price of rejectionist unionism."
The misery continues
Meanwhile, after a fortnight of relative calm, the Short Strand community came under sustained bombardment from unionist paramilitaries throughout the weekend. "It started about 3pm on Friday afternoon," said Debbie, "a bombardment of stones which lasted over an hour."
The attack subsided until 6pm when the bombardment resumed and continued until after midnight. Residents and community representatives repeatedly telephoned the PSNI but they refused to respond.
On Saturday ,the first stone was thrown at 11am and sporadic bombardment continued throughout the day until 2am the following morning. Pipe bombs and fireworks were thrown as well as heavy metal objects used to secure the high wire barrier to the wall between Cluan and Clandeboye.
In Clandeboye Gardens and Drive, roofs were smashed during the bombardment, leaving residents without electricity throughout the weekend after rain soaked through wiring in their attics.
The bombardment resumed at 11am on Sunday and continued until after midnight in the early hours of Monday morning. "We telephoned the PSNI repeatedly, they were reluctant to come out and even when they did, the bombardment continued," said Debbie.
In desperation, community representatives contacted the office of the Irish Secretariat. "They had been told that the PSNI were already in Cluan Place," said Debbie. "Whether they were there or not the attacks continued."
Meanwhile, the nationalist Short Strand was flooded with over 100 riot squad PSNI officers supported by the British Army.
Any hopes that the weekend onslaught would end were dashed when the bombardment resumed at around 8.30pm on Monday night. "This has been going on all weekend," said a resident. "We've had to move our children out again. It's a miracle no one has been injured here tonight."
Far from abating, the violence intensified with blast and pipe bomb attacks against nationalist homes in Madrid Street, Strand Walk and Clandeboye. One house in Clandeboye caught fire after being targeted by petrol bombers. Local people rushed to help put out the blaze while the Fire Service was called.
"This community has come under sustained and serious attack," said Sinn F´in Councillor Joe O'Donnell. "There has been gunfire, blast bombs and petrol bombs. There needs to be some serious decision making into how this community is going to be protected."
Meanwhile, on the edge of Short Strand, a unionist mob of over 200 blocked the Albertbridge Road. Unbelievably, not a single arrest was made by the PSNI. No attempt was made to disperse the mob and despite a heavy PSNI presence, the attacks against the Short Strand continued.
On Tuesday night, the area was quiet for the first time in five days, a heavy rainfall having appeared to dampen loyalists' enthusiasm for street violence. Tonight, the residents might sleep in their beds, not peacefully and without fear of further attack, but at least they were not forced out on the streets, braving blast and pipe bomb attacks, to protect their homes and community from being over run by a sectarian mob.
"One jeep thrown across the entrance to Cluan would stop loyalists who come from outside the area entering the estate," said Debbie. "Can anyone explain to me why hundreds of riot squad officers are deployed in Short Strand to do nothing while a few yards away loyalists are apparently left unchallenged?"
The video 'The siege of the Short Strand', has been filmed, edited and produced by residents. It runs for approximately 90 minutes and is available at The Art Shop, Falls Road, Belfast 028 90 243371 and is priced at £5 plus p&p.
What the press has refused to report
Danny and Debbie Devenney led off the series of meetings being held all over the country to tell people, who live far away from Belfast, just what has happened in the Short Strand over the summer. The video is violent and frightening. It is the story that the press has refused to report.
"Me and Debbie, we've lived right through the last 21 years in Short Strand. We've seen all the pogroms, the raids, the orchestrated attacks that our small community has endured. I myself have been shot twice, but nothing has been as bad as what our community has gone through this last summer in Short Strand."
The video, which Danny and other residents have made, tells the story. No one can controvert what it shows. You see loyalist/unionist youths, right beside the PSNI police, all dressed up in their riot gear, with lines of vehicles pointing into the little nationalist enclave. The youths pelt the houses with a continuous stream of ball bearings, 'fireworks', petrol bombs, pipe bombs, and shrapnel of every kind. The PSNI makes no attempt whatever to discourage them, leave alone remove their weaponry or arrest anyone."
"People were crying, 'Please protect my home'. Instead the PSNI launched an attacks on the nationalist people in the Short Strand. It has been a nightmare for all of us. Our children were simply robbed of their summer. No one could go out, or play. It was far too dangerous. Every bang caused your heart to leap," said Debbie.
It was orchestrated violence, orchestrated by the UDA and UVF serving Trimble's agenda to attempt to force the IRA into armed conflict to defend the people under siege. The clear intent was to end the Good Friday Agreement and pull down the institutions that enable power sharing and progression of the Equality agenda.
"For us, it was back to the '20s, the pogroms. 3,000 nationalists, a quarter of whom live in mixed marriages; 60,000 unionists/loyalists, and police chief McQuillan says it is 'street violence orchestrated by republicans'!
"It was clear from the start. On 31 May, loyalists (UVF) cleared the 23 houses in Cluan Place of the few old people living there, blamed us for driving them out, and then used these houses as launch pads for the relentless attack on our streets. One jeep could have stopped it," says Debbie.
You see it all happening in the video. You feel almost a part of the panic to put out the flames, to rescue the old people, the shouts and screams against continuous noise of firing and bursts of so call fireworks. It is, as Danny and Debbie said, "a frightening situation in which we were powerless.
"It was terrible. We went everywhere with our film, we went to all the media - they just wouldn't run the story. We went to the Catholic Church to ask for help. We went to the ombudsperson. We went to the British government, and we went to the government in Dublin. They all knew exactly what was happening. They refused to help us. We were left on our own. No one would run the true story of what was happening."
Short Strand children visit Tallaght
Seán Crowe TD and Cllr Mark Daly hosted a visit to Tallaght from children and parents from the Short Strand Belfast on Saturday last. Sinn Féin, with huge support from local businesses, raised money and brought over 30 children and some parents for a day at the Leisure Plex. A great time was had, but this was marred by news that as the children were making their way home their homes were again under attack.
Crowe said that politicians from all parties and none should go to the Short Strand and see for themselves the plight of the community.