A loyalist in his sixties drowned in a south Armagh pond on Monday night while trying to remove two Irish tricolour flags and replace them with a British Union Jack.
Ozzy Bradley, who had close links to controversial loyalist flags campaigner Willie Frazer, was attempting to swim across a small lake known as Bessbrook Pond. He was swimming with a Union Jack when he got into difficulties.
Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein representative, Mickey Brady, offered his sympathies. “The terrible news at the loss of a life at Bessbrook pond is tragic. A family is grieving tonight and a community is in shock,” he said.
Mr Frazer said feelings in the predominantly unionist village had been running high since the Irish flags were put up. They were first spotted on the island at Bessbrook Pond in the middle of last week. They have since been taken down.
Elsewhere, loyalists daubed a Catholic church in County Tyrone with graffiti including swastikas. The outside walls and front door of St Patrick’s Church in Dungannon were also spray-painted with slogans including ‘UVF’ and ‘f*** Gaza’.
Sinn Fein’s Bronwyn McGahan condemned the attack. “All places of worship, regardless of the denomination, should be treated with respect,” she said.
Independent republican councillor Barry Monteith described the spray-painting as “disgusting behaviour”.
“Unfortunately it is not surprising given the atmosphere that seems to be building within loyalism in the wider Dungannon area,” he said. “To have a place of worship treated in such a fashion beggars belief.”
Meanwhile, eastern European families, many with young children, were the target of the wave of racist attacks by masked loyalist paramilitaries in east Belfast on Monday night.
Houses and cars were damaged and racist slogans painted on several locations in the Bloomfield Avenue area. A gang of up two 20 loyalists was involved.
The PSNI police said there had been “a certain level of orchestration” but refused to admit loyalist paramilitary involvement, although the UVF is widely suspected.
Windows of two houses and two cars were smashed and paint thrown over them. Racist slogans were painted on several gable walls in the area. Among those targeted was Slovakian Ruzena Lakatosova, who was at home with her three daughters aged 14, 11 and eight. Her family were all sitting in the front room of their property watching television when paint bombs were thrown.
One of the children suffered a cut to her head as she was showered with glass as bottles containing paint came smashing through.
“We have lived here for two years, I don’t know why they have done this,” Mrs Lakatosova said. “This has never happened before and I am scared and frightened.”
More racist slogans that stated “Romanians out” were daubed on a wall on the street targeting a second family, also from Slovakia. The family, which included three children aged 11, 4 and 2, have lived at the property for two years.
The woman in the house, who was too scared to give her name, said: “I won’t stay here in Belfast”.
“I heard a noise and looked out and they were there with hoods over their faces and baseball bats,” she said. “I was so scared. I have children, I won’t stay here in Belfast. I am scared for the lives of my children.”
Her 11-year-old son said: “They say we are Romanian, we are from Slovakia. We have done nothing wrong”.