A protest by loyalist extremists against a reconciliation event involving ex-combatants and victims took place amid riotous scenes last night [Thursday] as missiles and abuse were hurled at those attending.
The principal target of the protestors was former IRA Volunteer Patrick Magee, who took part in the event as part of an ongoing peace-making effort. He appeared alongside Jo Berry, who lost her father in the IRA attack against the British war cabinet in 1983 in Brighton, in which Mr Magee was heavily involved.
Both were taking part in an event called: ‘Listening to Your Enemies’ organised as part of a week-long ecumenical exercise by local clergymen in east Belfast. But as the event was getting underway, a loyalist mob outside urged forward, shouted abuse and threw missiles. Afterwards, more stones were thrown and police lines came under fire.
The PSNI said four of its members had been injured in the trouble, but the force was criticised for showing little interest in protecting the event.
While most of the participants managed to escape through a rear exit, a former loyalist paramilitary turned community worker, Jim Wilson, said he had been attacked.
“I defended the people’s right outside to protest, I defended their right to have a different view. I believe we need to challenge Sinn Féin and the story they are telling throughout the world,” he said.
“When I came out, I got verbal abuse from my own community. My car was hit with bricks. I was called a traitor.”
Mr Wilson said he was now re-considering his position.
“I was so hurt about what happened last night, because I have been working with this community for 40 years,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, anti-Catholic graffiti was discovered on the Skainos building which belongs to the east Belfast Methodist mission. The PSNI said they were treating that incident as a hate crime.
The flames of loyalist hatred were also being fanned in Derry, where the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre was marked by the hoisting of flags in honour of the British Army’s killer Parachute Regiment, which murdered 13 anti-internment demonstrators on January 30, 1972. A fourteenth victim later died from his injuries.
For the second year in a row, the flags have been erected in loyalist areas of Derry to coincide with the anniversary.
John Kelly, a brother of 17-year-old Bloody Sunday victim Michael, called for the flags to be removed.
“Given the timing, there can be no other reason for erecting these flags than to cause offence and hurt. It is an insult to the families of all the innocent victims,” he said.
“This is a very sensitive time and this will cause offence throughout the nationalist community.”
Loyalists were also being blamed for an escalating series of attacks on immigrants in Belfast this week. The most serious incident saw a hatchet thrown through the front window of the home of a Nigerian family in the Sandy Row area early on Wednesday morning.
The hatchet narrowly missed the mother of two young children, Adeneke Yisa, who moved to the city centre loyalist neighbourhood 14 months ago. “The axe could have just hit me on the head - because the axe was just lying [next to me] on the floor,” she said. “I could have been dead.”
Four cars belonging to Polish and Slovakian families were set alight in another ‘hate crime’ attack in north Belfast the same night. Windows were also broken in three houses in the Shore Road and York Drive areas on Monday night.
Earlier this month, loyalist paramilitaries are believed to have carried out late-night attacks on a total of six properties in the Sydenham area of east Belfast. Bricks were used to smash windows on two separate occasions, including one night in which three homes of the same Polish family were targeted. Racist graffiti were also daubed on houses in the same area this week.
Anna Bloch said she did not understand why foreign nationals were being targeted. “We don’t do anything bad, we came here to work and me and my family work in a care home and we are helping people,” Ms Bloch said.