Catholics forced out amid fears of new violence

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A loyalist paramilitary crime gang in County Antrim has “ordered” the removal of Catholic families from housing estates in the latest episode of sectarian violence in the north.

A UVF gang was behind attacks on three homes in the town of Carrickfergus in which they believed Catholics have been staying.

Windows at properties were smashed late last Wednesday night. The home of a pensioner who only moved into the bungalow last month was also targeted.

The UVF is said to be working from a list of people living in the area who they suspect are Catholics or are living with Catholics. However, one of the families involved were not Catholic.

Most of the occupants have now fled the area.

Loyalist violence has continued as millions of pounds of public cash is set to be distributed to crime gangs in a Stormont programme for ‘tackling paramilitary activity’, but which in reality has served to sustain it.

A further £10m was committed to the fund last week. The smashing up of Catholic homes is possibly a UVF attempt to extort more cash. It echoes actions taken in recent weeks by other loyalist paramilitary gangs which have used riots at sectarian interfaces as a means of upping the ante with Stormont and London.

Paramilitaries in several areas, including Carrickfergus, orchestrated the rioting by throwing petrol bombs and other missiles into Catholic communities. The attacks were encouraged by both the UDA and UVF. They directed children as young as 12 to riot near mixed areas and nationalist interfaces and away from loyalist estates.

Unionist politicians and media have helped to spur on the violence by advancing claims of grievances and discrimination on a number of issues, including culture, social welfare, Brexit, social distancing, housing and others.

Meanwhile, the DUP and the British government have been accused of adding to the tensions by obstructing the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was refused by the British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis and the DUP have blocked meetings of the North South Ministerial Council by refusing to nominate a minister to attend them.

Alliance Assembly member Stewart Dickson described the ethnic cleansing in Carrickfergus as “raw, naked sectarianism”.

“Effectively, people are being targeted on the basis of perceptions of their backgrounds,” he said. “That this should lead to such attacks is absolutely abhorrent.

“Clearly, the attempts to wean these sectarian gangs away from their activities by handing out government financial inducements is now a failed policy.”

Sinn Féin councillor Michaela Boyle urged the unionist parties to “show leadership”. She spoke out after an Irish tricolour flag was stolen by loyalist youths in Strabane, County Tyrone.

“We have now seen a week of loyalist violence and attacks across the north and this is just another escalation of the tension whipped up by political unionism,” she said.

“I would appeal for people to remain calm at this time and urge unionist parties to show leadership and de-escalate this activity now.”

Loyalist paramilitary bands are said to be planning sectarian parades next week as a means of sustaining their disorder. They are rumoured to take place from Sunday, after the funeral of senior British royal Philip Glücksburg-Mountbatten.

One such parade by masked loyalists which took place in Portadown last week (pictured) ended with houses and cars of Catholics being attacked.

Illegal loyalist marches are likely to further expose the unwillingness of the PSNI to tackle those orchestrating the trouble. The force failed to take action against similar marches in 2012, leading to months of loyalist disturbances over a change in the rules on flying the British Union Jack flag.

The extreme imbalance in the PSNI’s use of crown-control weapons such as water cannon and dogs – deployed against a nationalist community defending their areas but not against loyalist rioters, despite eight days of violence at multiple interfaces – has again been criticised.

Senior Sinn Féin figure Sean Murray said the PSNI had been “slow to react” to the trouble at the Lanark Way interface in west Belfast, which saw the worst of the rioting. He said the police had adopted a “reactive” response to loyalist disturbances when it should be “proactive”.

Residents of nationalist areas are again being urged to remain vigilant following reports on social media warning of another bout of so called ‘protests’.

“While the death squad leaders sit in their lavish homes paid for with drug money, and DUP politicians sit in their mansions and farmhouses, the working class loyalist is used once more as their pawn,” Saoradh said.

“These young people will be cast aside as political unionism eventually falls back into line and washes its hands of them like Pontius Pilate as they are trailed through the courts.”

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