Larne nationalists still under siege
BY LAURA FRIEL
Catholic families living in Larne are too afraid to sleep at night and, fearing further sectarian attacks, are keeping buckets filled with water at strategic points around their homes. Acknowledging the current plight of Catholics living in Larne, the Bishop of Down and Conor visited the town on Monday 15 January to celebrate Mass and demonstrate solidarity. The Bishop's visit followed comments by Canon Archie Molloy advising Catholic families under attack to leave Larne.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey accused RUC boss Ronnie Flanagan of engaging in a PR stunt when he claimed on Monday that the RUC had carried out over 300 overt and covert operations in recent months to prevent loyalist attacks on Larne Catholics.
In a radio interview, Flanagan maintained that the RUC had increased patrols in the Larne area and brought the British Army onto the streets to prevent attacks. However, Maskey accused the RUC chief of attempting to excuse his force's inaction in face of the mounting sectarian attacks throughout the North, but particularly in Larne.
``Given that these attacks were, on occasion, happening almost nightly and the assailants were operating with impunity, Ronnie Flanagan's belated disclosure of increased patrolling is a classic case of bolting the stable door after the horse has gone,'' said the Sinn Féin representative.
Maskey also pointed the finger at British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson for his silence on the sectarian attacks. Under pressure due to his inaction, Mandelson finally spent Wednesday in Larne, throwing out a few anti-sectarian sound bites.
Meanwhile, parents of Catholic pupils attending schools in the town have hired a private minibus for their children after recent loyalist attacks during the journey to and from school. In an attack last week, a Catholic teenager was slashed across the face with an iron chain and another 14-year-old schoolboy was badly beaten by a gang of loyalist youths.
In the face of an orchestrated loyalist campaign of sectarian intimidation throughout the Six Counties, Catholic families living in vulnerable areas continue to flee from their homes. In Larne, ten more families have been forced to leave their homes since Christmas. According to the RUC, there have been over 70 sectarian attacks in Larne within the last year but local people say the figure is much higher.
A local resident, whose family escaped injury in a pipe bomb attack last week, pointed out that sectarian attacks against Catholic families living in the town were taking place ``week in and week out'' and many of these incidents remained unreported.
In Coleraine, another area that has witnessed an upsurge in loyalist violence, according to recent statistics there have been 28 attacks, involving blast bombs, pipe bombs and bullets through the post against Catholic families within the last six months.
Comprehensive statistics of sectarian attacks within the Six Counties remain unavailable but recent RUC figures suggest that pipe-bomb attacks within the last year have occurred at an average rate of two a week. ``Eventually someone is going to be killed,'' said William McCambridge.
The Catholic father of four was speaking after a pipe bomb attack on his home late last Wednesday night. The device shattered the kitchen door. The family, asleep upstairs, heard glass breaking followed by a loud bang. The room filled with smoke but the device failed to fully ignite.
other Catholic family living in Larne escaped injury when a pipe bomb was hurled through the living room window of their Laharna Avenue home. Margaret Shannon (52) and her son, Ryan, were in the room at the time but remained unhurt after the device, which was packed with shrapnel, only partially exploded.
The 20-year-old son described seeing a blue flash and hearing a whooshing sound as the device narrowly missed hitting him on the side of the head. This was the second sectarian attack against the family within ten days. A car belonging to a member of the family was seriously damaged when paint stripper was maliciously poured over it.
In another sectarian attack carried out just 15 minutes later in County Antrim, a Catholic family in Ballymena escaped injury when a pipe bomb thrown at the Circular Road home failed to explode. Sheila McAlary said her son was sitting at the window when the device was thrown. Her daughter and one year old grand daughter were also in the house at the time of the attack. A man was seen running away from the scene.
In nearby Ahoghill, the Diamond bar was evacuated after a pipe bomb was discovered on the window sill of the public house.
Meanwhile in County Derry, a 16-year-old boy escaped injury after discovering a pipe bomb in the garden of his family's Larchfield Gardens home. The family, who have lived there for over 18 years, were told that their home had been targeted by loyalists after a warning was telephoned to the Samaritans in Coleraine.
The Glendinning family were alerted but the RUC failed to find any device. A pipe bomb was later discovered by the family's 16 year old son who, unaware of the danger involved, brought the device into the house.
In a further incident, four scout leaders escaped injury in Belfast after a pipe bomb exploded at SDLP offices in North Belfast. The device which was left in the hallway of SDLP Assembly member Alban Maginnis's constituency office ripped the door from its hinges and scattered shrapnel across the street. An inner reinforced door deflected the blast away from the building, saving those inside from possible death or serious injury.
The scout leaders in the office at the time of the attack were trapped for over an hour before it was declared safe to evacuate the building. Speaking after the attack, the Maginnis said lights in the office had been switched on and it would have been clear to those carrying out the attack that the building was occupied.
Maginnis described the attack as a ``UDA response'' to comments he had made about jailed UDA leader Johnny Adair.
Meanwhile in County Down, a couple in a mixed marriage living in a predominantly Protestant area of Newry, have described 15 years of sectarian intimidation endured by their family at the hands of loyalist youths.
``We cannot leave our house at night for fear we will be attacked or our home will be targeted when we are not there'', said the couple.
d a Portadown mother of three believes she is lucky to be alive after a gunman pointed a gun at her last Thursday evening in the Tunnel area of the town.
According to the woman, who was sitting in her car near the train station, a car skidded to a halt beside her and she believes they targeted her when they spotted her sitting in her car on her own.
One of the four men in the other vehicle pointed a gun and the woman and she believes attempted to shoot her.
The woman who wishes to remain anonymous thinks that the gun jammed and this saved her life.
``I am 100% sure they were trying to kill me'', said the mother of three.
Joe Duffy who is an independent councillor for the area called on nationalists living along the Garvaghy Road to be vigilant, ``we expect these things to happen and we always have to be aware. This is an LVF stronghold and I wouldn't be surprised at something like this''.
In the latest attacks, loyalists pipe bombed the homes of two Catholic families in Coleraine County Derry and Ballymoney.
Also on Belfast's Cavehill Road loyalists targeted the home of RUC boss Ronnie Flanagan's brother. The bomb, left at the house on Tuesday evening, 16 January, failed to explode and was later defused by British Army bomb experts.
In the attacks on the Catholic families in Coleraine and Ballymoney, the Coleraine bomb exploded outside the home of a Catholic family of four, including two children aged 7 and 13.
No one was injured in the explosion at The Heights area of the North Derry town.
In the Ballymoney attack, the bomb failed to explode at the home of a Catholic family living in Donnelly Park, a small Catholic estate in a predominantly town.
Speaking to journalists the father, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed that his house was singled only because it was the first house in the estate.