A series of sectarian and racist attacks were carried out by loyalists in the nights leading up to the ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires and the ‘Twelfth’ marches.
A church in Ballymena, County Antrim, which has been vandalised repeatedly in recent years, was struck again by paint bombs late on Friday night.
The Church of Our Lady at Harryville was the scene of weekly intimidation by loyalists during Saturday evening Mass between 1996 and 1998 in protest to nationalist residents’ objections to Orange Order parades in nearby Dunloy.
The latest attack saw damage to the door and glass panelling. Sinn Fein assembly member Daithi McKay said it was clearly sectarian and an effort to “ratchet up tensions in north Antrim”.
Several homes of nationalists were targeted in Magherafelt as loyalists gathered near a bonfire. The attacks have been linked to a series of disturbances organised that night by the unionist paramilitary UVF.
Tbe bonfires themselves were, as usual, monuments to sectarian hate, carrying slogans such as ‘Kill All Taigs’, and topped with posters of nationalist politicians and Irish tricolour flags.
A Sinn Fein councillor described a banner calling for his murder that was placed on an Eleventh Night bonfire in Magherafelt as an “incitement to violence”.
Ian Milne, the chairman of Magherafelt District Council, said he had been told of the ‘Murder Milne’ banner by concerned residents. “It calls into question whether we are moving forward or not,” he said. “Everyone knows I work for everyone, Protestant, Catholic or dissenter.”
A banner on a bonfire in Mount Vernon in north Belfast, stating ‘MVT back in action’ -- a reference to the UVF murder gang who colluded with British forces during the mid-1970s -- was displayed along with a number of tricolours.
A resurgence of UVF paramilitary activity has been blamed for a number of attacks at interface afeas and follows the organisation’s highly orchestrated riots on Friday night.
These areas are increasingly home to European families, who are frequently subjected to attack by loyalists for a mix of territorial, racist and sectarian reasons.
Houses were set on fire on the interface at the Whitewell Road in north Belfast on Monday night, while the homes of at least five foreign nationals were targeted by loyalists in Ballymena and Portadown.
A Slovakian family were forced from their home in Ballymena after loyalists set fire to a shed beside their flat. A coal shed was set on fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning before spreading to the front door of their home in the Ballykeel area of the County Antrim town. The husband and wife and their baby escaped through an upper window.
The fire was the second attack on a foreign family in Ballymena this week. On Sunday a shot was fired into the home of a Polish family on the Larne Road in the town. Local SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan said the attacks followed the distribution of a racist leaflet by the little-known ‘British Movement’.
“There are clearly persons active in Ballymena who are so consumed by racial prejudice that they are quite willing to risk lives,” he said.
The homes of three foreign nationals, mainly Portuguese, were attacked by masked loyalists in Portadown, also in the early hours of Tuesday morning. A gang of loyalists entered Craigwell Avenue and smashed windows.
Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd said the victims, many of whom work in a local factory. had made a “valuable contribution” to the local economy, he said.
“They’re obviously shocked and traumatised that these attacks have taken place,” he said. “Whether it was racist or sectarian, it is wrong.”
Mr O’Dowd, who pointed to the sudden disappearance of the PSNI before the trouble. “Twelve masked men don’t suddenly just turn up in an area,” he said. “There was certainly an amount of planning went on involving this attack.”
In a statement, the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents Committee said the withdrawal of the PSNI was “extremely reminiscent” of previous pre-planned loyalist assaults on Craigwell Avenue during the late 1990s at the height of tensions over the Orange Order’s Drumcree protests.