By Frank Noakes
Four Catholics in northern Ireland were murdered by British loyalist death squads in the space of six days in late March. Three of the victims were from the Drumbeg estate at Lurgan/Craigavon in Northern Armagh.
The three were all local people who happened to be near a mobile shop whose owners and customers had been subject to harassment and death threats by the Ulster Defence Regiment, a legal arm of the British forces.
Residents of the estate are convinced members of crown forces colluded in the killings, and may have been directly involved. According to An Phoblacht/Republican News, the names of the killers are known to the Royal Ulster Constabulary as well as to the republican movement. They have been responsible for a number of murders in the area over several years.
The so-called Protestant Action Force, a cover name for the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force, claimed responsibility for shooting Eileen Duffy, Catriona Rennie and Brian Frizzel, all young Catholics.
Another incident in Craigavon a few days earlier sheds light on the attitude of crown forces in the area. Twenty-nine-year old Aiden Starr was dragged from his car by a UDR patrol on the main Armagh-Portadown road. During a severe beating that resulted in three cracked ribs, a fractured arm and severe bruising, Starr was told he would have been killed if he had been stopped in a less public spot.
"In Drumbeg and the surrounding areas, you cannot, on a normal evening, travel more than a few miles without encountering a UDR or RUC patrol. The killers seem to have been able to do so without trouble", observed Sinn Fein local councillor Brendan Curran.
In the largest display of community solidarity ever seen in the district, around 10,000 people turned out on March 31 for the funerals of the three.
The fourth victim of the loyalist death squads was found shot through the head and lying beside his burned-out taxi in the Glencairn area of North Belfast. Samuel Bell, a Catholic who had been born a Protestant, had answered a call for a taxi in Broadway on the edge of nationalist West Belfast. The killers knew that only a driver from a nationalist area would answer such a call.
Speaking at ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the Easter 1916 uprising, Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness warned that republicans and nationalists should not allow themselves to be drawn into the sectarian conflict such killings are designed to provoke. n