By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
And so another Catholic family has been forced by loyalists to flee Stoneyford village. The expulsion of this family a few weeks ago brings the number of Catholics driven from their homes to eight.
They left to the chorus of honking horns as their tormentors travelled around Stoneyford in their own cars blaring their bigotry for all to hear - especially the family packing their belongings.
A few days before they were forced out, the family suddenly woke up in the early hours of the morning to a different sound of intimidation when a breeze block was thrown through their living-room window.
This family are no strangers to running the loyalist gauntlet of intimidation. Some months ago they helped close relatives pack their bags as they sought sanctuary from loyalists determined to ethnically cleanse Stoneyford of its Catholics.
The haemorrhaging of the Catholic population of this village is an indictment of the PSNI and highlights their inability to meet the challenge of protecting isolated Catholics.
The roots of their woefully inadequate policing plan for dealing with threats from loyalists in this area stretches through every rank of the PSNI from the officer on the ground through Lisburn station - the district command centre - to the office of the chief constable, Hugh Orde.
It also stretches beyond the PSNI to the RUC because this campaign of intimidation has been going on for more than 10 years.
While there was no expectation that the RUC would protect the Catholics of Stoneyford there was an expectation that the PSNI would.
The PSNI’s abysmal failure to protect the Catholics of this village is best illustrated in how they handled the last moments of this family’s life in Stoneyford and the last act of loyalist intimidation against them.
Those honking their car horns in a perverted celebration are the people behind the intimidation in the village. The PSNI know this as does everyone else. Their brazen presence and behaviour on the day the family fled was greeted by inaction by the PSNI.
These highly paid law enforcers with extensive back-up resources looked on as if they were spectators to a harmless joust.
Their role on the day, armed as they were, in bullet-proof cars, agents of a state power, was to escort a beleaguered family from their dream home.
Further evidence of the PSNI’s failure to protect vulnerable Catholics from loyalist intimidation can also be seen through their refusal to remove union flags put up outside the homes of Catholics over the July 12 period.
Catholics complaining to the PSNI in Lisburn and Dunmurry stations about flags outside their doors said they were told nothing could be done and they should talk to the UDA about taking them down.
When challenged by Sinn Féin’s MLA for Lagan Valley, Paul Butler, in whose office I work, the PSNI denied giving this instruction but confirmed that they would not take down the offensive flags.
To excuse their indifference to these acts of intimidation they hid behind a document grandly entitled ‘Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Places’.
The document is worded in such a way that it is open to two interpretations - action on the part of the PSNI to protect those who feel ‘intimidated or harassed’ because a flag is being used to ‘mark out territory’ in an ‘aggressive display’ in for example ‘mixed’ areas.
Or inaction because the police are ‘mainly concerned’ with paramilitary flags which are illegal and the union flag is not.
Inaction has thus far characterised the PSNI’s policing operation in defending Catholics in Stoneyford and in other parts.
However, there are small signs of change and let me be the first to commend the PSNI’s operation which prevented an illegal loyalist parade through Stoneyford prior to July 11 and which also prevented a bonfire being lit.
Let me also commend the Parades Commission for the firm ruling they delivered in relation to the loyalist parade through Stoneyford.
This stance needs maintained and extended to those seeking the next Catholic family to expel from Stoneyford.