27 March 2003 Edition
Unionist paramiltaries gear up for the summer
There are growing fears within nationalist communties throughout the North that unionist paramilitaries are already attempting to heighten tensions in a run-up to the Orange marching season.
Nationalist homes on Alliance Avenue in North Belfast came under sustained attack for the second weekend in a row when unionist paramilitaries bombarded homes with bricks, bottles, rocks, and large pieces of slate, metal bars, and bolts.
Trouble began without warning or provocation in the early evening of Sunday last. Fearful parents rushed outside to protect their young children as a seemingly endless barrage of debris sailed over a three-storey high "peaceline" wall from the unionist Glenbryn estate.
One woman was horrified when she emerged to find her two-year-old sitting on her toy bicycle in the front garden while bricks and bottles struck the ground around her.
"Last year was the same," said the woman. "You never got her out here. But with the start of the good weather recently, I put her toys out, her wee bike and all. I was inside for only a minute when I heard something hit the door. I came out thinking it was a child kicking a ball."
The projectiles were lobbed so powerfully and from such a height that they even managed to damage vehicles and homes on the opposite side of Alliance Avenue. The attack lasted for several hours and nationalist residents report that they also heard at least six shots being fired from the Glenbryn area.
PUP man Billy Hutchinson denies the claim. Hutchinson blames republicans for firing the shots, saying the reports "just add insult to injury" and that the shots were fired from the nationalist Ardoyne estate.
But Sinn Féin's Margaret McClenaghan, who had actually been on the scene that afternoon, is sure that the recent attacks are part of a coordinated attempt by unionist paramilitaries to stoke sectarian tensions in interface areas.
"Nothing was thrown from Alliance," says McClenaghan. "The shooting came from Glenbryn after sustained stoning and people are very concerned and very angry.
"When the UDA issued their ceasefire statement we said that we would judge it by their actions on the ground. Since then the UDA have involved themselves in a number of incidents. In the past week we have seen attacks in North Belfast, West Belfast and East Belfast, and a few weeks ago unionists attacked homes in the Lower Ormeau area.
"It is now apparent to all how serious the UDA was about their ceasefire and what is particularly worrying is what appears to be a co-ordinated upsurge in unionist paramilitary activity throughout Belfast."
One nationalist mother told An Phoblacht that she is unable to allow her young daughter to play outside at all anymore.
"She is not safe in the back garden and she is not safe in the front either. The window of her bedroom was shattered on Sunday. She was in her bed sleeping when it happened. I heard the smash and the breaking glass and I heard her squealing. I ran to the room, afraid of what I would find. It took me an hour to calm her. She was really frightened.
"During the trouble last year she had gotten so used to the attacks on our home that she would actually hear the noise and say, 'Mummy, bold boys, throwing stones, bold boys'. She was just over a year old, just starting to walk. It was one of her first sentences.
"You never see any kids out in the street playing or out in their gardens. The young ones are always kept in, and trying to keep them in is difficult."
Residents who have asked the Housing Executive to relocate them for their family's safety have been told there are people in greater need than they are.
"We first applied to be relocated more than a year ago," said one nationalist resident. "Unionists who lived in the abandoned homes directly on the other side of the wall also asked to be moved. A year later they are gone but we are still waiting. And those empty houses are where the attacks on our homes are coming from."
"The Housing Executive doesn't live here," added another resident angrily. "This is a lovely street, but no one can enjoy it when it's like this. The weather turned nice, kids wanted out and then this has started again. You can't go out. You can't sit in your garden and enjoy the sunshine."
"You can't leave your kids alone for a second", said one young mother, "You have to watch what's going on, are they alright. You don't even know if you're going to be safe in your own house at night.
"The 'police' arrive, look around for a few minutes and leave again. It's the same with the local media. You couldn't pay them to take an interest. They don't even bother to come out anymore."
Another woman remarked that the recent events reminded her of days she hoped were long past.
"It's just like the start of the troubles," she said. "If I go to make a cup of tea, my daughter will say to me, 'Mummy, don't put the lights on'. I can remember my own mother saying that to me when the troubles first broke out - don't turn on the light."
O'Donnell blames UVF for violence
Trouble erupted last Wednesday night, 19 March, on the Lower Newtownards Road near the nationalist Short Strand in East Belfast, when a 70-strong loyalist mob attacked British Army vehicles.
The loyalists used a digger, stolen from a building site, to knock down a CCTV camera pole at the junction of Bryson Street and the Newtownards Road, facing St Matthew's Catholic Church. Ironically, the CCTV camera was erected at the behest of loyalists.
Nationalist have expressed concern about how loyalists could have carried out such an attack given the large number of British Army and PSNI personnel drafted in to deal with the latest outbreak of sectarian violence.
When asked by the media how a slow moving digger could have knocked down the CCTV camera in full view of British Forces, with those onboard fleeing to dump it in nearby Harland Walk, a PSNI spokesperson said "the PSNI who were on duty at the time were overwhelmed by the ferocity of the attack".
Sinn Féin councillor for the Short Strand, Joe O'Donnell, said: "This could be the prelude to further attacks on nationalists by unionist paramilitaries.
"We need to send out a very clear message from both communities that no one wants to be dragged back into the abyss that we went through last year and that must be the clear objective for anyone with influence in East Belfast."
Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, whose party is linked to the UVF, confirmed that unionist paramilitaries were involved in the attacks.
This latest loyalist violence came after a weekend of attacks last weekend that saw a total of six pipe bombs being thrown into the Short Strand by unionist paramilitaries.
On Tuesday 18 March, a British Army bomb disposal team defused a blast bomb thrown into Bryson Street from the loyalist Newtownards Road. Joe O'Donnell told An Phoblacht he believed the group carrying out the attacks was under the control of the UVF.
Loyalists clashed with the PSNI at the Ballygomartin Road and the Springmartin Road in West Belfast on Thursday 20 March, in trouble that lasted for more than five hours.
Catholic woman escapes firebomb attack
A 22-year-old Catholic woman was forced to jump from the downstairs window of her flat at Elms Park in the Ballysally estate, Coleraine on Monday night 10 March after members of the UDA set her front door alight.
The young woman heard her front door being kicked in and smelt smoke coming from the hall. She got out of bed to investigate the smoke and escaped with her life by jumping through the window before raising the alarm.
The fire caused considerable damage to the living room and smoke damage to the rest of the flat.
A relative said the young woman was too distressed to talk about the incident but had been "targeted for no good reason".
Sinn Féin councillor for East Derry, Francie Brolly, told An Phoblacht the UDA was behind the attack, and that residents in the flats above and adjacent to the woman's flat were also very lucky to be alive.
"The UDA keep telling us they are on ceasefire but the people of the Six Counties know their words mean nothing to the nationalists."
Larne family escape UDA petrol bombs
A Catholic family of five escaped serious injury on Wednesday night 19 March when two petrol bombs were thrown at their Drumahoe Road home in the Millbrook area of Larne.
The petrol bombs were lobbed at the house from a neighbouring field, the first striking the front of the house close to a bedroom window at around 11.55pm before igniting, causing scorch damage. The second struck a vacant property next door, where it ignited, causing no damage.
The owner, Tommy Gallagher described the attack on his family as attempted murder and said the bombers meant to do damage as they aimed the devices at his bedroom window.
His two sons, aged 13 and 18, were watching television in the living room when they heard the two explosions and saw flashes outside. "My youngest son ran upstairs to see if I was ok. He couldn't go to school on Thursday; he's just a ball of nerves and my other son is thinking about moving to England."
Tommy Gallagher said his family have been threatened before but they haven't had anything like this happen.
"I don't want anything like this to happen again but why should I leave, my wife was born and bred here and im not going to run away."
Kelly slams bus attack
Sinn Fein Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly has spoken out against a sectarian attack on a school bus in which three pupils were injured.
The bus, carrying pupils from the Boys Model school, was stoned as it travelled along the Oldpark Road when a mob threw stones and beer bottles at the vehicle shortly before 4pm on St Patrick's day
Three boys received cuts to their hands as two windows were broken in the attack and were taken to the Mater Hospital.
"I utterly deplore these sectarian attacks who ever perpetrates them and am calling for an immediate halt before someone is seriously injured," said Kelly.
UDA try to attack schoolchildren
Catholic parents in Antrim Town have told Sinn Féin councillor Martin Meehan of their fears of sectarian attacks against their children after up to 25 Ulster Young Militant (UYM) thugs and eight UDA men were forced to abort an attack on St Malachy's High school pupils after parents intervened on Thursday 13 March.
One parent told An Phoblacht that eight UDA men got out of two cars near the school and that they were followed to the school by the UYM gang.
"They were going to attack the children going home from school to the Springfarm estate but a number of parents intervened. The PSNI then arrived at the scene and the loyalists retreated. God only knows what would have happened if we hadn't been there. These sectarian attacks against Catholic schoolchildren keep continuing; when is it going to stop?"
Martin Meehan said that parents had approached him asking for international observers to monitor and report on the ever-increasing sectarian violence directed at the nationalist community in Antrim.
An Phoblacht has also learned how 15-year-old twin girls were threatened by loyalists in the Castle Shopping centre on Thursday 13 March. The loyalists told the girls that "Taigs" were not allowed in the Antrim centre.
Students threatened by UDA
University of Ulster students at Jordanstown have been told to leave student accommodation in the loyalist Rathcoole estate by members of the UDA.
Four students were approached by a number of UDA members on Thursday 13 March and warned that "all taigs" living in the house had 48 hours to leave the area or face the consequences.
One student told this paper they were forever being questioned by youths in the Rathcoole area about what religion they were.
Antrim man's details with loyalists
An Antrim man has been warned by the PSNI that his personnel details are in the hands of unionist paramilitaries.
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, told An Phoblacht that as he left work on Tuesday 25 March he was approached by members of the PSNI who told him they had been at his house but he wasn't in. They then asked the man if the house they visited was his actual address.
He said thsay advised him "to change my normal routine". The man asked what loyalist grouping did the threat originate from but was told by the PSNI member he was only passing on the information he had.
The man has since contacted his solicitor who has written to the PSNI and is trying to find out all the information she can.