Loyalist violence in Belfast and Antrim
There have been a series of attacks against Catholic church goers in County Antrim.
The move comes after the discovery of a device at a church on the outskirts of north Belfast.
Mass was cancelled at Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Greencastle on Saturday evening after the object was found.
Although the incident was later declared a hoax, it prompted fears of an “orchestrated” campaign against Catholic churches following similar incidents in recent weeks.
On Friday last week a pensioner woman lifted one of two pipe bombs at Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare, Co Antrim. She escaped injury.
About 20 primary school children walked within yards of the devices as they made their way from Tir na nOg Primary School to the church for St Brigid’s Day Mass.
Tensions in other parts of County Antrim have been high since British and ‘Northern Ireland’ flags were put outside St Nicholas’s Catholic Church and the neighbouring primary school in Carrickfergus last summer.
The town has also been the scene of loyalist mob violence since the Alliance Party voted with nationalist councillors at Belfast City Hall to limit the flying of the Union Jack to 18 designated days a year.
In recent weeks, parish workers at St Nicholas’s Catholic church were forced to close the church as loyalists massed nearby.
Days before Christmas Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Whitehead, which is in the same parish as St Nicholas’s, was damaged when arsonists set fire to a boiler room.
The motive for that attack is also believed to have been sectarian.
Although it is not known who is behind the attacks, the UVF and the breakaway South East Antrim ‘brigade’ of the UDA have a strong presence in the area.
East Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Oliver McMullan said he believes the attacks are linked.
“These attacks on chapels are about more than the flag. It’s part of other intimidation,” he said.
“They are trying to put fear into the minority nationalist and Catholic population and where better to do it than target their place of worship? You can’t get much lower than that.
“It’s clearly an orchestrated loyalist campaign.”
Loyalists angered by the City Hall flags decision were also blamed for an incident in north Belfast on Monday, when cars belonging to nationalists were torched.
Four vehicles on the mixed Deerpark Road area were set ablaze.
The area between the loyalist Glenbryn and Ballysillan estates has suffered a long history of sectarian attacks, with evictions of Catholic families, pipe bombings and paint bombs being thrown at homes by loyalist mobs.
Typically, the PSNI refused to admit the most recent anti-Catholic violence is sectarian.
Niall Murphy, a father of two, said if the PSNI continued to refuse to say the targeting of nationalist-owned cars was sectarian, he would complain to the police ombudsman.
“I don’t know why the PSNI cannot call something a sectarian attack whenever it has all the hallmarks of a sectarian attack,” he said.
He warned that PSNI disinterest could result in people being injured.
“You do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that attacks in that area are normally and sadly sectarian,” he said.