More than 100 loyalists (supporters of British rule) were involved in a serious mob assault at a “peaceline” in the mid-Ulster town of Portadown in Northern Ireland on July 15, throwing bricks, bottles, paint-bombs, fireworks and at least one blast bomb.
The mid-Ulster Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has been widely blamed for the assault, the latest in a series of large-scale attacks it has mounted over the “marching season” (when the Protestant Orange Order holds provocative anti-Catholic marches).
The tight-knit nationalist community of Portadown quickly rallied to the interface area and mounted a defence in the face of some of the worst such trouble in the north Armagh town for several years.
Sinn Fein assembly member John O’Dowd, who attended the scene, said the attack continued for hours.
“What is known is that around 100 loyalists attacked police and attempted to attack nationalist homes in the Portadown area over several hours,” he said.
“I’m in no doubt that the vast majority of people, whether they are from the unionist or nationalist community, want to see an end to this trouble.”
Several immigrant families, mainly from East Timor, ran from their homes as a result of the violence, he said.
“They packed their bags, so distressed were they at the violence. Their neighbours tried to reassure them that they would be safe in their homes but they left,” he added.
A number of families from East Timor have settled in Portadown, where they work in the food packing industry alongside many Polish and Portuguese nationals.
There has been an upsurge in UVF attacks, beginning in early July with a larger assault on another isolated nationalist enclave, the Short Strand in east Belfast.
After the UVF-organised riots in three towns in County Antrim, there was broad public shock when an apology was issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) after the UVF blamed the PSNI for starting the trouble.
PSNI Assistant Chief Alastair Finlay offered the force’s “sincere apologies to those people who felt that they have not received the police service that we strive to deliver”.
His comments came even after a masked UVF gang hijacked a van and used it to ram a police vehicle — injuring six of its occupants — after the removal of UVF flags provocatively hung outside a Catholic church in the small town of Ballyclare, County Antrim.
The attacks and riots have been linked to UVF demands for increased access to government-run “peace funds”.
On July 16, the PSNI again appeared keen to placate the UVF when Superintendent Jason Murphy tried to deny its involvement in the Portadown violence and said that no nationalist homes had been attacked.
The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition described Murphy’s statement as “defensive PR spin” that was trying to downplay the organised nature of the July 15 events.
In a statement, the coalition said the PSNI had permitted “an openly intimidatory gathering of masked loyalists immediately adjacent to the main peace-line”.
It said at least one blast bomb-type device was thrown by those same masked men towards nationalist homes in Obins Drive and Obins Avenue.
“Why is the PSNI reluctant to confirm the widely-held view within the nationalist community in Portadown that Friday’s so-called ‘peaceful protest’ was organised by the Mid-Ulster UVF,” the statement asked.
“Why were PSNI officers were clearly observed by nationalist residents to be engaging in either conversation, or negotiations, with three masked, and one unmasked, leaders of that loyalist mob?
“Previous loyalist protests held adjacent to Craigwell Avenue some years ago, and which were also deemed ‘peaceful’ by the police, resulted in almost one-third of the nationalist families in that street fleeing their homes permanently.
“Since then, a number of Portuguese-speaking families have moved into Craigwell bringing a new vitality to it. However, those families have now also fallen victim to loyalist intimidation, as demonstrated on July 12 and July 15.
“Unfortunately, Supt Murphy’s statement would appear to demonstrate a policy appeasement towards, and a denial of, loyalist intimidation and violence directed towards those living within nationalist areas of Portadown.”
Meanwhile, the Orange Order in the town has been accused of adding to tensions after announcing that its weekly protest parade over the ongoing Drumcree dispute will now double in frequency.
The order already marches there each Sunday but says that from July 20 it would add a Wednesday march.
The Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition, who have protested against the order’s attempts to march there, said the increase was going to add to stir up more problems for the town.
“We keep hearing from politicians and church leaders that people do not want to turn the clock back to the past,” it said. “But the message does not seem to be getting through to Portadown District Lodge. The only thing this new parade will achieve is to heighten tensions.”
[Reprinted from Irish Republican News.]