Republican News · Thursday 23 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

``Keeping an open mind''

The brick used by the loyalist gang to smash through the double glazed bedroom window hit the sleeping child on the head. The petrol bomb which followed was close enough to set both the baby's and her mother's hair alight

``I heard Francesca screaming. I opened the door and the place was alight. The curtains, back wall and the bed were all on fire.''

``Rebecca and me were both on fire. I didn't know what was happening but I knew I had to lift my daughter. I couldn't open my eyes. There were just big balls of fire coming up in my face.''

These are the words of Ronnie Hamilton and Francesca Feeney, respectively, describing a sectarian loyalist attack in which a petrol bomb was thrown through their bedroom window on Sunday night. Francesca and the couple's ten-month-old baby, Rebecca, were sleeping in the bed, which ignited during the attack.

The brick used by the gang to smash through the double glazed bedroom window hit the sleeping child on the head. The petrol bomb which followed was close enough to set both Rebecca's and her mother's hair alight.

A slight difference in the bomb's trajectory and Ronnie Hamilton would have lost his family as well as his home. As it was, his swift action saved both Francesca and Rebecca from more serious injury. But no one could save the family from the trauma of their ordeal.

``I can't go back in that house. I'm scared to close my eyes in case of what happens. I'm never going back inside that house again. I just couldn't.'' Francesca believes her family has been targeted by loyalists because she is Catholic living with a Protestant partner. ``Just because we are different religions they want to kill the baby,'' wept Francesca. This is the third time this family's Glenarm home has been targeted by loyalists.

Yet 48 hours after the attack, the RUC were still ``keeping an open mind'' and ``unable to identify a motive for the attack''. As the evidence of the sectarian nature of the attack mounted in the local media, the RUC reluctantly conceded that a sectarian motive ``had not been ruled out''. But by now it was three days later and the incident already old news. Too old to attract any international coverage anyway.

The RUC often play a decisive role in the manipulation of the media's response to a particular incident. By deliberately distorting the detail of a particular killing, RUC spin doctors manipulate the perception of the conflict in the North of Ireland to suit a pro-British agenda - a model in which two warring tribes engage in reciprocal ``tit for tat'' violence contained only by the ``neutral'' forces of the Crown.

Of course, the facts don't fit the fiction. Over the last 30 years, twice as many Catholics as Protestants have been killed as a result of the conflict. Tens of thousands of Catholics have survived sectarian attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have endured sectarian abuse and sectarian discrimination.

Although individual Catholics can be sectarian, the experience of sectarianism within the Six-County state has been far from reciprocal. Sectarian violence is a weapon used almost exclusively by loyalists against nationalists. Sectarian discrimination ensures unionist privilege.

A sectarian state maintains British domination. No wonder state forces like the RUC often play a pivotal role in obscuring the truth by creating a perception of sectarianism as a kind of Capulet and Montague `plague on both your houses' phenomenon.

In RUC press releases, sectarian attacks against Catholics are routinely underplayed. The RUC delay identifying an attack against a Catholic family as sectarian. The extent and nature of loyalist violence is often fudged. If the victim is a Protestant killed by loyalists in the mistaken belief that their target was a Catholic, it is often reported simply as sectarian and people are left to draw their own conclusions.

Commenting on the loyalist attack on her family, Francesca Feeney concluded: ``I don't know how anybody could be so sick.''

But of course it's not sickness. It's not mindless nor motiveless. It's anti Catholic sectarianism. It's anti-Irish racism. And there was plenty of that about last weekend. From the unionist-controlled Belfast City Council, which denied funding to a St. Patrick's Day Carnival parade into the city centre, to the loyalist confrontation of an AOH parade in Kilkeel, to the travesty of the members of Corcrain Orange Hall ``reclaiming'' St Patrick as an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish icon - ``They say he's patron saint of Ireland. That's not what we say. We're not Irish. No way.''

In 1998, after the sectarian killings of the Quinn children in Ballymoney, BBC television reporter Denis Murray described the killings as `racist'. This well-seasoned journalist, who I had watched on TV reporting hundreds of sectarian attacks and killings over many years, broke with the usual delivery and was visibly struck with grief and horror at the Quinns' brutal deaths.

For a moment, Murray understood what sectarianism equates within the northern nationalist community. For a moment, we were all talking the same language.

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