A savage sectarian attack has left a Catholic father-of-one badly disfigured.

Paul Denvir lost an eye after he was brutally beaten by a gang brandishing hammers and machetes as he walked home from a bar on the Shore Road on the outskirts of north Belfast.

The Loyalist Action Force - a cover name used by loyalist paramilitaries - yesterday claimed responsibility for the murder bid in a telephone call to a Belfast newsroom using a recognised codeword.

A gang of four men attacked the 37-year-old from the Whitewell area moments after leaving the Boundary Bar on the Shore Road on Sunday night.

One of the gang hit him on the back of the head with a claw hammer. The blow knocked him out and he was then systematically beaten about the head before his attackers fled in the direction of Newtownabbey.

Sinn Féin north Belfast representative, Gerry Kelly appealed for ``a strong voice from with unionism'' to bring such attacks to an end.

``This is a very serious incident and we are extremely lucky that we are not dealing with the killing of another nationalist at the hands of loyalists,'' he said

``I am calling for calm in the light of this attack and urge extreme vigilance.

``In the past three months, despite relative calm at some interface areas, loyalist violence has persisted with over 180 separate attacks. This does not account however for the nightly attacks and harassment that occur which largely goes unreported.

``I am also calling on a strong voice from within unionism to come and stand against these attacks.

``There is an onus on all political parties, but especially unionists, to use what ever influence they have, such as their place within the Loyalist Commission, to bring these attacks to an end once and for all.''

The `Loyalist Action Force' claimed the attack was in retaliation for an attack on a Protestant bar.

The group also lifted a death threat against prominent Catholic clergyman Father Dan Whyte, who was told his life was in danger on the eve of the annual Cemetery Sunday service in Carnmoney in September - day marred by loyalist violence.

Last night Father Whyte said he was ``horrified'' by the loyalist statement.

``To be told on the one hand that a death threat is lifted and then to claim responsibility for bringing an innocent Catholic to death's door, how do you think that makes me feel?,'' he said.

``The fact that there was a car seen prowling the public road in the early hours of the morning, obviously on the look-out for innocent Catholics to be attacked. It is a very big worry for the local Catholic community.''

``He went to order a taxi but the girl told him there wouldn't be one for 20 minutes, so he decided to walk,'' his brother said.

``He doesn't remember anything about it (the attack). His injuries were very severe. You don't lose an eye for nothing.

Mr Denvir, who is now in stable condition in hospital, has undergone several hours of reconstructive surgery to his face.

Such was the brutality and frenzied nature of the attack that as well as losing an eye, surgeons had to remove a tooth lodged in his throat.

Mr Denvir said he had braced himself for death.

``I was in that much pain, I couldn't feel it, I just wanted to go (to die),'' he said.

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