It is feared that several nights of orchestrated rioting in north and east Belfast could be the precursor of weeks of sectarian interface violence.
Youths clashed for four nights this week in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast. The area has also endured another spate of distressing sectarian attacks on family homes, while a marathon rioting session also flared at an east Belfast interface.
Petrol and paint bombs and other missiles were thrown by more than 100 people in Ardoyne on Sunday and Monday night. A crossbow bolt was also fired at nationalists from the Glenbryn estate, a stronghold of the unionist paramilitary UDA.
Sinn Féin accused the UDA of involvement in the violence and warned their members were “flexing their muscles”. Local councillor Margaret McClenaghan said PSNI police watched from their Land Rovers as community workers “were getting stoned from behind police lines”.
The rioting was followed by spate of sectarian attacks. Paint bombs were thrown by youths at several nationalist homes in the Alliance Avenue and Ardoyne Road area at 11am on Wednesday morning. This followed a series of at least six attacks in north Belfast on Tuesday night, including some retaliatory attacks on the homes of unionists.
A three-month-old baby was showered with glass and paint and two other young children were also hurt during one attack on Catholic homes in the Cliftondene area.
The children’s mother pleaded in vain with a group of four loyalist youths before her home came under fire from paint and petrol bombs. Windows were broken in the incident and paint and glass rained down on the children and their mother. A petrol bomb failed to ignite.
The gang escaped on foot leaving behind a crate of bottles filled with paint which had been meant to target more Catholic homes.
Last night, further clashes broke out in north Belfast, with petrol bombs and other missiles hurled by dozens of youths in the Brompton and Cranbrook areas. Sinn Féin has urged young nationalists not to get involved in the ongoing violence.
Meanwhile, nationalist residents of the Short Strand came under fire from missiles emanating from the unionist Cluan Place area on Monday. Some 400 nationalists and unionists were involved in eight hours of rioting at the Clandeboye Gardens/Cluan Place interface.
Residents of the nationalist enclave say they now fear a repetition of the summer of 2002, which saw the same interface endure months of violent sectarian clashes.
Up to five rounds were fired from the unionist Cluan Place during the violence, which erupted at around 6pm on Saturday and lasted until 2.30am on Sunday.
Strike marks were visible on the gable wall of a house in the nationalist Clandeboye Gardens. Broken bottles, bricks and a pipe bomb were also hurled over the peace wall.
Residents and politicians said simmering tensions between rival groups appeared to have reached boiling point on Saturday following a soccer game between Glasgow Celtic and Rangers.
Sinn Féin representative Deborah Devenney said the community had been under attack from loyalists since Wednesday.
“These people cannot live like this. They don’t deserve to live like this. It’s totally disgraceful. I am willing to talk to any unionist politician to try and resolve this,” she said.
Meanwhile, the British government has come under pressure to declare obsolete the professed ceasefires of the unionist paramilitary UVF and UDA.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan expressed astonishment that British Direct Ruler Peter Hain has yet to give the assessment on the Ulster Volunteer Force - an organisation which has recently killed four men as part of its vicious feud with the splinter Loyalist Volunteer Force.
Mr Durkan pointed to recent death threats received by Raymond McCord, whose son was killed by the UVF in 1997 and who has been a vehement critic of the group, and the ongoing vendetta of the UDA against the Sunday World newspaper.
“It is demoralising for decent people that the secretary of state has remained speechless.
“He still will not say what everybody knows: that loyalist paramilitaries have broken their ceasefires.
“Just what is it that needs to happen before the Northern Ireland Office think that the UVF has broken its ceasefire. How many more killings does it take?”
According to Stena lines, passengers complained when some of the 500 Rangers fans returning from Saturday’s soccer game against Celtic began to sing threatening songs.
One passenger later told BBC radio: “The supporters, they weren’t even singing football songs, it was about killing Catholics, and named Catholics that have been shot dead.”