Sectarian attacks are now averaging at least five attacks every day despite efforts of nationalist groups to placate unionists with concessions over contentious anti-Catholic parades through interface areas.

The figures show that violence has actually increased by more than a third over last year.

Figures released by the PSNI show that since April there have been an average of 38 sectarian attacks across the north every week.

Of course, due to traditional police under-reporting of such incidents, the true number should be signifiantly higher,

Between April 1 and July 7 there were a total of 491 reports. This compares to 363 for the same period in 2005.

The figures come after a fresh outbreak of violence in north Belfast.

The homes of Catholic families in the Whitewell area were targeted by a gang of 30 to 40 masked men armed with hatchets, bricks, crossbows and golf balls. Windows and cars were the main targets of the loyalist mob.

Targeted in the incident was the home of a six-day-old child. The child’s great-grandmother was the victim of a separate sectarian attack on her own home in the north of the city earlier this summer.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly appealed for calm and urged unionist representatives to show leadership in their communities .

“I would appeal for calm in the Whitewell area at this point in time. This was a planned and orchestrated attack on vulnerable nationalist properties and vehicles.

“The residents in this area pose no threat to their neighbours, however are forced to endure attacks of this nature all year round.

“Sinn Féin has worked tirelessly across North Belfast, and in Whitewell in particular to ensure a peaceful summer, however we are not witnessing the same level of commitment by Unionist politicians. I am therefore calling for representatives of the DUP and UUP in the area to show some positive leadership in bringing this type of attack to an end.”

Meanwhile, a 29-year-old Catholic man beaten in an attack in Derry in the early hours of Sunday July 16 remains in a critical condition in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital more than a week later.

Paul McCauley, a father-of-one, suffered serious head injuries after a gang assaulted him and two other men.

He had to be resuscitated twice in Altnagelvin Hospital.

One of the other men also had his jaw fractured, while the third was badly bruised.

The PSNI said the attack in the Waterside area was sectarian and they are treating it as attempted murder.

And a son of Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan has spoken about a sectarian attack which may have left him with permanent damage to his brain.

23-year-old Damian O’Loan was attacked in the Oldpark area of north Belfast in the early hours as he walked alone to his Ardoyne home after a night out with friends in the city centre.

He said he tried to reason with the four-strong gang and innocently told them where he lived.

“Presumably that was all they needed to hear... They knew I was Catholic,” he said.

A passing taxi-driver raised the alarm and drove him to hospital.

“He potentially saved my life. He didn’t even know what had happened,” Mr O’Loan said.

Other incidents have seen a series of unrelated attacks on Catholic churches and Orange Halls across the North this month.

In the warly hours of this morning, a fire severely damaged St Mary’s Primary School on the Shore Road in north Belfast.

Sinn Féin North Belfast Councillor Tierna Cunningham has today said that last night’s fire at a Catholic school in North Belfast “bore all the hallmarks of another sectarian attack in the area”.

A fire severely damaged St Mary’s Primary School on the Shore Road in the early hours of this morning.

“This is clearly an attack upon the whole community which can only heighten tensions and lead to a spiralling situation as we have seen over the past number of nights. These attacks are wrong and must cease immediately, whether they be on schools, homes, churches or Orange halls,” said Sinn Féin North Belfast Councillor Tierna Cunningham.

In other news, a 16-year-old boy who witnessed the brutal beating to death of Ballymena schoolboy Michael McIlveen has had to be taken out of school for fear of attack.

It is understood that teachers at the college advised the student’s parents to keep him away from the integrated school for his own safety.

The teenager’s father last night said he feared for the safety of his son. His fears were heightened after a second son, 27-year-old Paul, was badly beaten by loyalists just metres from the spot where Michael McIlveen was fatally attacked.

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