Loyalist violence exposed
In a week when a three young Catholic men were lucky to survive a sectarian assassination bid in North Belfast and when resurgent internecine feuding saw an LVF man shot dead, An Phoblachts LAURA FRIEL examines the ongoing loyalist terror campaign.
It was broad daylight and on a Saturday afternoon, Atlantic Avenue was packed with shoppers. According to the PSNI, in North Belfast a massive deployment of Crown forces personnel was already in place following a shooting incident involving loyalist leader Davy Mahood two days earlier.
Reporting the incident, in which a lone gunman had fired at Mahood as he made his way to work in the Ballysillan estate, the media mentioned tension within loyalist ranks but focused on Mahood's claim that republicans were behind the attack.
A senior member of the UDA in North Belfast had recently been summoned by Johnny Adair and told to 'lay off' Mahood. Mahood had been under pressure from anti-Agreement elements within the UDA.
The Newsletter reported Mahood's accusation that 'hardline republican terrorists' were behind the incident. The Irish News quoted the UDA's political spokesperson John White predicting retribution. DUP Assembly member for North Belfast Nigel Dodds reiterated Mahood's claim.
d it's a dangerous game. Whatever their intentions, the media and unionist politicians had already set the scene when around 4.30pm on Saturday afternoon a red Rover car drove into Atlantic Avenue and loyalist gunmen opened fire at a group of young Catholic men.
The mayhem and panic that followed, with two of the three victims seriously wounded, must have seemed all too familiar to a community that has suffered the highest incidence of sectarian attack and murder in the North.
Two men, both in their early 20s, one shot in the stomach and the other in the shoulder, required emergency surgery. The third victim was treated for a minor injury and shock.
"Many people fear we may be seeing a return to the random sectarian killings of the 70s," said local Sinn Féin Councillor Gerard Brophy. "These gunmen appear to move unhindered around one of the most patrolled areas of Western Europe."
A few hours earlier, a Catholic man in the Springfield Road area escaped injury when three shots were fired from a passing red Rover car before speeding off towards the Shankill.
Meanwhile, loyalist mob attacks on Catholic areas continued. In the Lenadoon area of West Belfast, a loyalist gang from Blacks Road smashed car windows in the nearby nationalist Doon Road. In the Springfield Road, a stone throwing loyalist mob smashed the windows of Catholic homes across the peace wall.
Within hours of the Mahood shooting incident, a senior member of the LVF, Stephen Warnock, was shot dead as he sat in his parked BMW car on the Circular Road in Newtownards.
Warnock appears to have known his killers and had been seen talking to two men on a motorcycle moments before the pillion passenger opened fire. Warnock was hit at close range and died at the scene.
Warnock, described by the media as a well known illegal drugs baron and in an LVF statement as a senior member of the loyalist paramilitary group, was also a close associate of the Shankill UDA leader Johnny Adair.
Two years ago, a bitter and bloody loyalist turf war was played out with a return to a sectarian campaign of violence against the Catholic community. Loyalist rivalry over money and power was suspended with a reassertion of a common racist agenda.
At the time, loyalists openly suggested the way out of feuding was to 'go back to killing taigs'. This time, internecine loyalist violence is being pursued in parallel with an ongoing sectarian campaign against the northern nationalist community.
On Monday night, East Belfast UDA leader Jim Gray survived another assassination bid after a lone gunman shot him in the face as he attended the wake of slain loyalist Stephen Warnock. A few hours later, a brother of Stephen Warnock escaped injury when his house was sprayed with gunfire.
The incident was the third in East Belfast within the last month. A couple escaped injury after being confronted by two masked gunmen outside a club in the Sydenham area.
Johnny Adair is believed to have been inside the Warnock family's home at the time of the attack on Jim Gray. According to loyalist sources, Adair's close association with the LVF has been a cause of 'irritation' to rival elements within the UDA.
According to reports, the UDA in North and West Belfast are supporting Adair against rival members in south Belfast, southeast Antrim and south Derry.
Meanwhile, insistence by the British Secretary of State, mainstream unionism, the PSNI and the British-led media that this summer's campaign of sectarian anti-Catholic violence has not been the orchestrated agenda of violent loyalism and anti-Agreement unionism but merely a mindless squabble amongst neighbourhood bigots, is becoming increasingly unsustainable.
Even the tardy call by Robin Eames, the Church of Ireland Primate, for "people of good will in both communities to find ways in which all our people could live as neighbours rather than suffer as enemies" fed, but could not hope to sustain the myth, against the backdrop of ongoing loyalist violence throughout the north.
By focusing on sectarian violence at interface areas within Belfast, the media helped sustain the myth of intercommunal strife but there is no denying the stark reality of loyalist violence in areas outside the city.
According to the PSNI's own figures, in parallel campaigns of sectarian violence there have been ongoing loyalist attacks on Catholics in Coleraine, Larne, Antrim and Carrickfergus.
According to the PSNI, in the first nine months of 2002, loyalists have carried out 46 gun attacks, 11 pipe bombings and 27 petrol bomb attacks against Catholics in these areas.
Local people put the figure much higher; within the last three years there has been over 200 loyalist attacks against Catholics in Coleraine alone. In the past three months, over 50 Catholic families have been forced to flee their homes in Antrim.
Similarly, the lie peddled by David Trimble, in a desperate attempt to stave off the anti-Agreement challenge to his leadership within the UUP, that the violence is being orchestrated "most of it by mainstream republicans", is increasing being exposed as a cheap political ploy.
"This is about a unionist determination not to share power with nationalists," wrote Brian Feeney in the Irish News. "No Sinn Féin means no Executive which means no power sharing."
Criticising the new PSNI Chief Constable's characterisation of the Atlantic Avenue shooting as "mindless", Feeney cited the 1970s, when loyalists "were engaged in a campaign to instil terror into the Catholic population".
Then as now, Feeney argued the loyalist campaign remains "indistinguishable from racism.
"At present, in case Hugh Orde doesn't know, the UDA is engaged in a campaign of bombing and shooting which they hope will lead the IRA into retaliation thereby breaking its ceasefire with the result that Sinn Féin is slung out of the north's executive."
Violent loyalism is "in effect the paramilitary wing of anti-Agreement unionists whose political aims are precisely indentical and who would be ecstatic if loyalist provocation did induce the IRA to break its ceasefire," wrote Feeney.
In the Tribune, Susan McKay pointed out the contradictions. "All summer long loyalist paramilitaries have been relentlessly attacking Catholic homes around the north, while Trimble, back by other unionist leaders insisted the problem was 'naked aggression' from the IRA," she wrote.
Trimble claims that "the cause of the current crisis" is the fault of the IRA "no more and no less" but "he knows that isn't true", says McKay.
"Trimble has drummed up this crisis. Unionists are fearful people. He thinks he can unite his party under his leadership by scaring them."
Tragically in the areas like the Catholic enclave of Short Strand, the crisis is being drummed by loyalist paramilitaries eager to put meat on the bones of unionist claims.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, less than two months ago, was feeding the unionist passion for perceived grievance and imagined threat with false predictions of republican inspired mayhem during the Orange marching season.
d only two weeks ago, still insisting that the IRA and UVF were equally to blame, he reluctantly admitted that loyalists were responsible for the "significant majority" of the violence in Belfast.
McQuillan's statement coincided with the arrival of Hugh Orde, installed as the new PSNI Chief Constable this month. Perhaps more significantly, McQuillan's apparent change of perception also pre-empted a still to be published report by the Police Ombudsman.
In the report Nuala O'Loan concludes that the IRA has not been involved in "orchestrating violence at the interfaces". In fact the Ombudsman points out that republicans have instead been active in "trying to calm and defuse conflict situations".
On the Antrim Road in North Belfast, it was shortly after 10.30pm on Monday night when a pipe bomb was thrown into the home of another Catholic family. A woman, who was alone with her children in the house at the time of the attack, ran to a neighbour's house for help.
The pipe bomb smashed through the front window and landed on the floor of the living room but failed to explode. The woman, who is seven months pregnant, was taken to the Mater Hospital, where she was treated for shock and admitted for observation.