There are fears that loyalist paramilitaries may again ratchet up violence after a spokesperson for one of their biggest murder gangs said the response by unionist politicians to recent marching decisions had “fallen short”.
Reports of upheaval within loyalism come amid increased anti-Catholic violence, including stone-throwing in east Belfast, graffiti attacks and acts of vandalism against republican memorials.
A spokesman for the south Belfast UPRG, which represents the UDA in the area, said unionist leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt appeared to have put their summer holidays ahead of the demands of the loyalist community.
Paul Clissold said the ‘graduated response’ they were promised after a sectarian parade was prevented from marching through the nationalist Ardoyne on July 12 had not materialised.
“Stormont has long been known as dysfunctional but it is becoming more and more like a simpering poodle to the demands of Sinn Fein,” he said.
“The sooner we have a proper opposition the better. Stormont is clearly broken, physically and spiritually.
“A response is not a response if it does not respond to that which needs responding to.”
A ‘dissident’ loyalist group within the UDA has continued to flex its muscles with attacks on rivals. This week a car belonging to the partner of former UDA prisoner John Howcroft was set alight and damage caused to the front door of the house in north Belfast in the early hours.
The attack is being linked to an increasingly violent breakaway group in the area and comes less than two weeks after a pipe bomb was thrown at the car of loyalist leader John Bunting. Meanwhile, the other main unionist paramilitary organisation, the UVF, has also seen worrying changes at leadership level in east Belfast.
In another indication of rising tensions, a stream of missiles were thrown over the ‘peace wall’ into nationalist homes from unionist Cluan Place for several hours on Friday evening.
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile said his thoughts were with one family whose window had been “put in” during a sectarian incident. “For the sake of all families on both sides, no matter where it comes from, these attacks should stop and stop now,” he said.
It came after anti-Catholic slogans, including ‘KAT’ [Kill All ‘Taigs’/Catholics] were sprayed on a community centre in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast, on Wednesday night, the fourth attack on the centre in recent months.
Historical projects and memorials have also been targeted amid rising sectarian tensions.
A newly erected plaque to the Presbyterian Jemmy Hope in Mallusk outside Belfast has been destroyed, likely due to his affiliation with the United Irishmen. A memorial bench for IRA veteran Brendan Hughes has been damaged in a paint attack, while an educational history bus tour containing young children was last week attacked by loyalists.
This week, in apparent reprisal, a memorial to British soldiers in Ligoneil in Belfast and a British war memorial in the village of Stoneyford were hit by paint.
RNU Spokesperson, Martin Og Meehan denounced the cycle of attacks on historical projects and memorials that he said had developed in recent times. He said those involved “seek to discredit Republicans and provoke volatile elements into a tit-for-tat cycle of vandalism.”
“On behalf of RNU, I ask that this and other similar memorials and projects be left alone, so whoever wishes, can pay their respects in peace.”