The predominantly Catholic and nationalist community of Ardoyne in north Belfast has been subjected to a campaign of violence as part of the sectarian “marching season”.
In recent weeks, the six counties still claimed by Britain have been the scene of violence by “loyalists” — those who support ongoing British rule and the privileges given to the Protestant majority to ensure loyalty to British rule. The article below was published by Irish Republican News on July 19.
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After a week of the most intense loyalist violence, a decision by the Parades Commission to reroute another planned march by the anti-Catholic Orange Order has been welcomed as good news.
Orangemen said they would try to march through the republican Ardoyne and surrounding areas of north Belfast on July 20, to “complete” their July 12th parade.
For several nights after July 12, Orangemen and their loyalist supporters engaged in heavy rioting — wielding swords, bricks, masonry, petrol bombs, blast bombs, fireworks and other missiles — in their determination to march down the Crumlin Road and into a series of nationalist communities.
Rioting quickly spread to loyalist east Belfast, and roadblocks and barricades created disturbances across Ireland's north.
The violence was at its most intense on the night of July 12, it continued in a more localised manner every night since with diminishing intensity.
Widely blamed for encouraging the riots with militaristic speeches and statements, the Protestant masonic Orange Order initially appeared to back down before announcing the July 20 parade plan.
Their stated reason is to “escort our fellow brethren home to their Orange Hall and therefore complete the Twelfth of July parade”.
The July 20 march was set to involve 500 participants, three bands and an undisclosed number of supporters. Authorities planned to block it from passing through the Ardoyne area.
It is expected that the Orangemen will now stage weekly “Drumcree-style” parades to the north Belfast flashpoint, recalling the prolonged loyalist siege of the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown in the late 1990s.
On July 12, and for three successive days, the intersection was the scene of serious confrontations between sword-wielding Orangemen and the shield-bearing Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) riot police.
Each side had its reinforcements: the Orangemen enjoyed the support of more than 1000 loyalist supporters, many intoxicated by the alcohol and heat. The PSNI fought back with the support of over a thousand riot police, hundreds specially drafted in from London and other British cities.
An Orange Order spokesperson appealed for calm on July 19, but it was widely feared beforehand that the July 20 stand-off would involve the full venom of the loyalist battle gangs directed against Ardoyne, with the growing involvement of the murder gangs of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
At the eye of the Orange storm on July 12, Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly was among those who helped ensure republican Ardoyne remained peaceful, addressing a crowd from the hood of a PSNI Landrover.
On July 19, Kelly denounced the plan for a new parade: “Whoever in the Orange Order thought this was a good move needs to reflect on how it has increased tensions and done absolutely nothing to point towards a resolution of the situation.”
A spokesperson for the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective said: “This has been the most peaceful July in Ardoyne for many years, confirming what GARC has being saying for a long time now — that it is these unwanted coat trailing exercises that were the basis of trouble that plagued our community for generations.”
It said it would not hold a protest on Saturday in a bid to lower tension in the area, but added that “all attempts by the Orange Order to provoke our community will fail and are futile”.
The cost of the disorder has yet to be measured, but the PSNI has said 72 of its members had been injured. Riot police fired 49 plastic bullets.
It was also revealed British army Land Rovers are back on the streets to cope with the increased involvement of the UVF and Ulster Defence Association. So-called “snatch” vehicles have also been spotted outside nationalist estates across the city in recent days.
The PSNI admitted 140 British army Land Rovers “loaned” to them for the Group of Eight summit had been “retained”. Repainted the same white as PSNI Land Rovers, the British Army vehicles have had the word “police” roughly painted on their sides.
A significant feature of the current wave of violence is the involvement of a broad cross-section of pro-British unionist society, including older people and women and the middle classes.
Elderly men have been seen to attack police lines with everything they can lay their hands on, and cheering as the PSNI suffered injuries. Some appeared so drunk that they could barely stand, while others strutted around in a state of undress or performed lewd actions for the entertainment of the baying mob.
Orangemen in sashes and bowler hats were often to the fore, swiping viciously at the PSNI with their “commemorative” Battle of the Boyne swords. They were assisted by loyalist bandsmen, some wearing official Royal Navy “Help for Heroes” T-shirts, as well as masked and hooded youths.
By July 16, the small nationalist Short Strand enclave had once again become the main focus of loyalist violence — as it had been at the start of the year.
Although initially overshadowed by the scenes in Woodvale, the rioters in east Belfast also swaggered around drunkenly before the cameras between launching themselves wildly at riot police, feeling protected by the domination of the area by the UVF.
Seventy-eight-year-old Short Strand resident Tommy McNulty, whose home was targeted several times in recent days, says he felt let down by those political leaders who had come to reassure him before. The attacks have forced McNulty’s 81-year-old wife Kathleen to leave their home.
“We have lost count of how many times our house has been attacked,” he said. “I have had [British Direct Ruler] Theresa Villiers sitting on my couch. I have met TDs and politicians and nothing has been done.”
In the days after July 12, the rioting appeared to have become more centred in the areas controlled by UVF murder gangs.
Violence spread to strongholds such as Mount Vernon in north Belfast and the Village area of west Belfast. There were also disturbances in Portadown, County Armagh, and in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.
But nationalist communities were living in fear across the north. A Catholic woman in Coleraine escaped injury after flammable liquid was poured through her letterbox on the night of July 12 — the third attack on her home in a week.
The woman, who is ill and awaiting major surgery, lives alone in a predominantly loyalist area of Coleraine. Although she was not hurt in the attack, she has been left badly shaken.
She was treated for an injury to her eye after a brick was thrown though her kitchen window. Bricks were thrown into her back garden in a separate attack.
But the trouble began, as every year, with the sectarian bonfires of the night of July 11, the eve of the July 12 parades.
A statue of the Virgin Mary placed on one bonfire caused anger, but an effigy placed on another caused even greater outrage. It was intended to depict a popular west Belfast priest who committed suicide in June, it has emerged.
Father Matt Wallace, originally from Templetown in County Wexford, was dubbed “the people’s priest” after having served communities in west Belfast for almost four decades. The parish priest of Holy Trinity Church in Turf Lodge was found dead in the parochial house.
For some, the burning of the effigy brought back memories of their own tragedies. Margaret McCartney said she was horrified when she was shown a picture of the bonfire in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey.