Loyalists who hacked down Gaelic football goalposts at a County Down pitch and branded them ‘British’ are intent on driving Catholics from the area, a local Sinn Fein councillor has said.
Uprights at the council-owned Carginagh Road playing fields, just outside Kilkeel, were cut to the size of soccer posts. A Union Jack flag had previously been flown from them.
Children from Ballymartin Gaelic club are using the pitch while their usual one is redeveloped.
In reponse to the children’s use of the pitch, heavy cutting equipment was used by loyalists to remove the tall metal uprights on Monday night or early on Tuesday.
Sinn Fein councillor Sean Doran said those responsible were trying to force Catholics out of the area.
“It is exclusively used by juveniles. Over 50 children under the age of 14 have been using the pitch for training,” he said. “For what I can only call sectarian bigots to vandalise this pitch is a total disgrace.”
MIXING POLITICS WITH SPORT?
In a separate development on Thursday, a senior loyalist paramilitary figure warned that a gesture by the Irish soccer team to mark the 18th anniversary of the Loughinisland massacre could have “dire repercussions”.
Six Catholic men were shot dead in June 1994 when unionist paramilitaries opened fire indiscriminately inside the Heights bar in Loughinisland, County Down as they were watching the Irish team play.
Ireland defeated Italy 1-0 that night in the Giants Stadium in New York. Among those who died in the attack was Barney Green, aged 87, the oldest victim of the recent conflict. Five other men were seriously wounded. Amid evidence of Crown force collusion, no-one has ever been convicted of the killings.
The Irish soccer team, who are currently competing in the Euro 2012 tournament, will again meet Italy in four days’ time -- 18 years to the day since the massacre. Both teams will wear armbands to mark the anniversary.
Families of the victims have welcomed the decision of the two football associations, backed by UEFA, to mark the atrocity which came to overshadow Ireland’s famous sporting victory.
But Jackie McDonald, who heads the UDA in south Belfast, said on Thursday the armband tribute could be “a recipe for disaster”. The UDA leader is a supporter of the peace process and did not suggest the commemoration would lead to violence. However, he said that the Six-County ‘Northern Ireland’ team, traditionally supported by loyalists, might begin to mark IRA attacks in response.
In Loughinisland itself, a series of events has been organised this weekend to commemorate the 18th Anniversary of the massacre. Events include a Poc Fada, Gaelic football competition, big breakfast, a debate and the play ‘A Night in November’.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitriona Ruane said that the program was an opportunity for the community to show its support for the families in their quest for truth and justice.
“The families have campaigned for the truth and justice against a background of cover-up and hindrance from the British government, RUC and the PSNI,” she said.
“[The program of events] is an opportunity for people to come out and support the families in their campaign to break through the silence of the British government on collusion and help bring truth and justice to the families. I would ask everyone to attend as many events as possible and remember the six men murdered that evening.”