Catholics terrorised in Larne
BY LAURA FRIEL
A small grey-haired woman sits with her 18-year-old son in the modest front living room of their County Antrim home. On her lap she is holding a fire extinguisher. This is her family's only defence against the sectarian thugs who have attacked their home over 15 times in the last two years. Last Friday night the house was petrol bombed.
The caption on the photograph reads, ``lucky escape''. Mary and Martin McCormick stare straight into camera. Their faces tell their own story of hardship and resolve. ``We'll stay'' runs the headline. ``It has been our home for the last 18 years,'' Mary is reported as saying, ``we are causing no offence to anyone.''
A young man is photographed carrying a large cardboard box, packed with his family's belongings, out of the front door of his County Antrim home. Andy Steele (22) woke at 5am on Friday morning to find a man standing over him with a shotgun. The man put the gun to the young father's face and threatened to kill him. This is not the first time the family has been threatened by loyalists.
The RUC have informed the Steeles that their name is amongst a number of Catholic families living on the Seacourt estate named on a LVF death list. The LVF have threatened to shoot, ``man, woman and child'' if the families don't move out. ``Tension grips town as Catholic family flee'' runs the front page headline. ``I'm moving out of the area,'' Andy is reported as saying. ``It's just getting too much.''
A campaign of sectarian terror is being waged against Catholic families living in the County Antrim town of Larne. The petrol bombing of Mary McCormick's home and the armed threat against the Steele family are the latest in over 150 sectarian attacks against Catholic families living in the predominantly loyalist coastal town.
In the last three months, over 25 families have been intimidated out of their homes. A further 16 families living in the Seacourt estate have sought to be rehoused. Catholic families, unable or unwilling to move out, are forced to live under the constant threat of loyalist violence and repeated sectarian attack. A dossier detailing recent attacks on Catholic families in Larne has been given to the Dublin government's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen.
One particular Catholic family has been the target of repeated violent attack. The Shaw family have lived in Larne for three generations. Last week they were informed by the RUC that their names, together with other Catholic families living on the Seacourt estate, were on an LVF death list. Like the Steele family, the Shaws were told to leave but like the McCormicks, they intend to stay.
Two months ago, John Shaw was targeted by loyalists in a booby trap bomb attack. The device had been planted at a spot where he regularly stopped to gather fish bait. John escaped with minor injuries and shock but his companion was not as lucky. Tommy Baxter, a Protestant friend, was rushed to a Belfast hospital for emergency surgery.
In an earlier attack, John escaped serious injury when a grenade exploded under his van. The Shaw's family home has been petrol bombed and their car set alight. Loyalist intimidation of the Shaws does not end with John's immediate family. Members of his extended family have also been repeatedly targeted.
His aunt's house has been petrol bombed twice and a cousin has been shot at and stabbed by loyalists. His home was also attacked by a blast bomb. John's uncle, Bertie Shaw, was shot dead by the UDA in 1993.
It's against this backdrop that an article appeared in the Belfast Newsletter last week. ``A policy of zero tolerance is needed on the streets of Larne to tackle sectarian violence,'' trumpeted the Newsletter. The local DUP councillor, Jack McKee, had called for the RUC to come down hard on sectarianism plaguing the area, we were told.
McKee was speaking after a week of attacks on homes which ``culminated'' with a pipe bomb being hurled through the window of a house in Old Glenarm. The family, thought to be Protestant, escaped uninjured but it prompted Mr McKee to demand ``zero tolerance against these republicans who seem hell bent on spreading terrorism''.
With a journalistic sleight of hand, the Newsletter then cited a number of other attacks, which were in fact sectarian attacks by loyalists against Catholic families but any detail which would interfere with the article's preferred agenda was omitted. ``Dozens of homes have been hit in the coastal town this year,'' claimed the Newsletter's Stephen Dempster.
``There is a message which has gone out of this town in recent weeks that Protestants are attacking Catholics but while that has happened, equally there have been incidents where Protestant homes have been attacked,'' councillor McKee was reported as saying.
One thing must be clear. Sectarian attacks are totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by any section of the community. On Monday December 4, a pipe bomb was thrown through the kitchen window of the home of a Protestant family in Old Glenarm Road. A man and two boys aged 12 and two escaped injury. There was no explosion and the device appears to have been unprimed.
It later emerged that the house was the residence of a 27-year-old loyalist, Andrew Green, who had been remanded in custody charged with possession of a firearm and threatening to kill a Catholic man. The charges are believed to be related to an incident in Seacourt a few days earlier.
According to local sources, the attack in Old Glenarm followed a row between two rival loyalist factions involving a loyalist with LVF connections recently relocated because of the ongoing loyalist feud in the Shankill. It may not suit the political agenda of the DUP or the editorial line of the Newsletter, but the truth is that we are primarily dealing with loyalist violence and intimidation, most notably in Larne, but also in other areas across the Six Counties.
Last week, the beleaguered Catholic church at Harryville, Ballymena, was targeted in a sectarian arson attack. The loyalist gang ripped a metal grill from a ground floor window frame, broke the glass and climbed into the store at the back of the parochial house.
With a reticence bordering on the comic, the RUC said that a ``sectarian motive'' for the arson attack ``had not been ruled out''. From 1997, Massgoers in Harryville endured 20 months of loyalist intimidation, mass pickets organised in support of Orange demands to march through nationalist areas.
In Coleraine, County Derry, families in the predominantly Protestant Harpers Hill estate were evacuated after a pipe bomb was thrown at the home of a Catholic family. In another incident on Saturday night, a man wearing a white boiler suit fired a single shot into the Porterhouse Bar in the Waterside area of Coleraine town. Earlier, a loyalist gang had attempted to lure a named individual out of the bar.
In Belfast, a 16-year-old Catholic schoolboy was attacked by a gang in the loyalist Blacks Road enclave in West Belfast. Joseph Heath was knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked by the gang. The attack took place in broad daylight a short distance from Woodbourne RUC barracks.
The simple truth is this. Until unionists, either in the guise of politicians, journalists or members of the RUC, stop colluding in denial and are prepared to fully acknowledge the reality of loyalist violence, we'll never achieve ``zero tolerance'' of sectarianism within the Six Counties.