``If the shooting starts''
BY LAURA FRIEL
``Keep the doors and windows locked, don't answer the door, don't run to the door to ask who's there and if the shooting starts don't stand up to run away, lie down and crawl.'' These are familiar words of advice to children living in republican households.
At last weekend's Dublin Ard Fheis, a delegate asked a Sinn Féin councillor how his children had responded to recent media reports that he was being actively targeted by loyalist killers. ``They've grown up with it,'' he said. And it's not just that children must learn to live with the threat that one of their parents may be murdered, they are also aware that, as young as they are, their own lives are at risk.
At last weekend's Dublin Ard Fheis, a delegate asked a Sinn Féin councillor how his children had responded to recent media reports that he was being actively targeted by loyalist killers. ``They've grown up with it,'' he said
At times of renewed threats, parents who are at risk, republican or nationalist, elected representatives, community activists or defence lawyers, face the dilemma of what to tell their children. It's a delicate balancing act. Just enough to keep them safe, not too much to make them afraid.
Last week in Belfast, Lisburn and Lurgan, 20 Sinn Féin elected representatives were informed by the RUC that they were being actively targeted by loyalist death squads. Their lives, they were told, were in imminent danger.
To date, 17 members of Sinn Féin, including three councillors, have been killed by loyalist assassination squads
Nationalist resident groups representatives, Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau and Breandán Mac Cionnaith of Garvaghy Road and defence lawyer Pádraigín Drinan were also informed that their lives were in danger.
For most this was not the first time that they had been made aware of death threats and murder plots against them; for many this was only one of many warnings from the RUC; for a few this was one of a number of warnings received within the last year.
Belfast's longest serving Sinn Féin councillor, Alex Maskey, has survived four known plots against his life.
Within the last six months, Gerard Rice has been informed of seven different plots against his life. A warning last Thursday from RUC Special Branch of an imminent threat to Breandán Mac Cionnaith followed recent sightings of a prominent Belfast loyalist in Portadown. Two cars, each carrying five men, including the Belfast gunman, were spotted recently driving along the Garvaghy Road.
Within the last year, Lisburn Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Ferguson has been informed of three plots. Recently, he narrowly escaped attack when two cars carrying men wearing football shirts gave chase to the vehicle in which he was travelling close to Hillsborough council chambers.
Last summer, the home of Sinn Féin Councillor James McCarry was targeted in a loyalist pipe bomb attack. The front living room window was smashed before the pipe bomb was thrown inside the room, where just moments before the McCarry's children had been watching television.
Just before the attack, Val McCarry had received a threatening telephone call which referred to the murdered Quinn children of Ballymoney. The McCarrys were told that their children would be next. Shortly after, a loyalist mob gathered outside the McCarrys' home, pounding the doors and terrifying the children within.
In February this year, shots were fired at a Sinn Féin election worker as he drove towards James McCarry's home. James is the only member of Sinn Féin to be issued with a personal weapon.
To date, 17 members of Sinn Féin, including three councillors, have been killed by loyalist assassination squads.
John Davey was shot dead in February 1989 as he drove home after attending a meeting at Magherafelt District Council. The fact that his car had been stationary at the time of the shooting fuelled suspicions of crown force collusion in the killing. John Davey had received numerous death threats prior to his assassination and had survived an earlier attack the year before his death.
Eddie Fullerton was shot dead in the early hours of 24 May 1991 during a ten-week loyalist ceasefire. A loyalist gang sledgehammered their way into his Buncrana home, firing three shots at close range at Eddie as he confronted them on the stairs. ``It was all over in seconds,'' one of Eddie's sons was told by his mother.
Bernard O'Hagan, a second member of Magherafelt District Council to be killed by loyalists, was shot dead as he arrived at the college where he worked on 16 September 1991. At his funeral, Joe Austin, at the time a Sinn Féin Councillor for Belfast, said that killing had been part of a renewed counter insurgency strategy:
``It was British Military Intelligence who set up our friend and comrade for assassination and who provided information and direction to his killers.''
``He was removed because he was successful and articulate,'' Fiona O Hagan said of her dead husband.
On 8 August 1993, North Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Bobby Lavery survived a loyalist gun attack on his home. Tragically, his 21-year-old son Sean did not. It was shortly after 9pm when two loyalist gunmen opened fire at the Lavery family's home from a car in which they were travelling.
In the lighted front living room sat four of the family's five children watching television. Their parents were not in the room. With a clear view, the gunmen fired up to 30 shots, some striking the front wall, others smashing through the window. Sean was hit three times but managed to stagger halfway upstairs to alert his father. The other children were miraculously uninjured.
Earlier that day there had been a huge nationalist rally at Belfast City Hall. It was the first time Belfast nationalists had successfully marched into a city centre which loyalists regarded as ``theirs''. In nationalist communities across Belfast, people were apprehensive that loyalist death squads would be active and looking for revenge.
A few months earlier, in December 1992, another member of Bobby Lavery's family had been killed by loyalists. Martin Lavery was wrapping Christmas presents with his five-year-old daughter when two gunmen burst into his living room and shot him four times in the chest.
Three weeks before the death of his son, Bobby had survived another loyalist attack when a bomb which had been thrown into Sinn Féin's advice centre on the New Lodge Road failed to fully detonate.
The Lavery family's ordeal has been particularly harrowing but it has not been unique. Just two weeks prior to the attack which killed Bobby's son, the family of Annie Armstrong, then a Sinn Féin Councillor for Lisburn, narrowly escaped injury when loyalists machine gunned her home.
Two of Annie's children were upstairs but her eleven-year-old daughter Frances was watching television with her mother in the downstairs living room. The attack took place shortly after Annie arrived home from a Lisburn Borough Council meeting in Hillsborough. Speaking shortly after the attack, Annie described her ordeal:
``When the firing started I threw Frances and myself to the ground. The worst thing was not knowing if my other children were okay. I could hear them screaming upstairs and I shouted up to them but I couldn't get up the stairs until the firing stopped.''
The attack took place only hours after Lisburn Sinn Féin councillors had presented a motion initiating a formal challenge to unionist exclusion of Sinn Féin representatives from council committees. A bullet smashed the television screen where Frances had been sitting just moments before.
nie and her children survived. The hurt inflicted upon them was psychological rather than physical, but it changed their lives. ``We have lived under the shadow of that attack ever since.'' Annie was recently told of a renewed loyalist threat against her life.
In the Armstrong household, no one had been shot, but just a few weeks earlier the scenario at Alex Maskey's home had been less fortunate. As Belfast's longest serving Sinn Féin councillor, Alex has survived four known plots against his life.
In May 1987, Alex was seriously injured in a loyalist gun attack at his home. Circumstances surrounding the attack, including the fact that the Maskey's telephone became ``out of order'' just hours before, suggested crown force collusion, a suspicion later confirmed during the trial of British Intelligence agent Brian Nelson in 1992.
At the trial it emerged that Alex had unwittingly thwarted a plot to kill him orchestrated by British Intelligence agent Brian Nelson in 1990 when he left a restaurant on the Antrim Road before the loyalist gang could avail of a murder weapon. Nelson admitted playing a key role in the plot. It was also disclosed in court that the RUC ``at a senior level'' had been aware that Maskey was being targeted by loyalists in 1987.
No one was injured in a second gun attack in 1993 but an attack in May of that year resulted in the death of Alan Lundy, a member of Sinn Féin carrying out repairs at the Maskey family home. The 39-year-old father of five was alone outside the front of the house when a car carrying three masked men appeared.
Two gunmen jumped out of the car and opened fire, killing Alan before running inside the house where they fired several shots. Liz Maskey and her teenage children ran for their lives from the kitchen at the back of the house. Alex, who was upstairs in the bathroom at the time of the attack, also escaped injury.
In October 1992, Sheena Campbell from Lurgan was shot dead at a hotel in Belfast. Two years earlier, Sheena had stood as a Sinn Féin candidate in local government elections. More significantly, as a key election worker, Sheena had developed the ``Torrent strategy'', a method of organising elections which remains the cornerstone of Sinn Féin's practice up to the present day.
Sheena Campbell's partner, Sinn Féin Councillor Brendan Curran survived a number of loyalist attacks on the couple's home in Lurgan. In 1988, Brendan escaped injury when he spotted a grenade attached to the gate post at the back of the house. A year later Brendan was seriously injured in a grenade and gun attack at his elderly parents' home.
One of two masked gunmen opened fire, shooting Brendan in the neck, leg and chest. Brendan's 75-year-old father attacked the gunman and him to retreat out of the room while his elderly mother threw her weight against the door to shut him out. Before making their escape, the assailants threw a grenade through the window of the room, injuring Brendan's father.
Currently, Sinn Féin has over 150 elected representatives, more than half of whom live within the Six Counties. In the past, any unionist perception of nationalist advancement has been accompanied by violent intimidation at the hands of loyalists. In eight weeks of political power, Sinn Féin's elected representatives, particularly their two ministers elected to the Assembly Executive, demonstrated their ability not only to administer the affairs of office effectively but also to do so inclusively and fairly.
In the political vacuum which has followed Britain's decision to collapse the institutions, the continuing loyalist threat against representatives of the nationalist community has intensified. Members of Sinn Féin challenging Orange rule, spokespersons of residents' groups challenging Orange marches, their legal representatives or simply members of their families, are currently paying the price for Trimble's failure to face down opposition to the Good Friday Agreement.