Violent attacks and rioting, orchestrated by terrorist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), have targeted communities of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland in recent weeks.
The largely working-class Catholic east Belfast suburb of Short Strand was attacked in riots organised by the UVF on June 20. Petrol bombs and rocks were thrown at homes and residents.
The area is predominantly nationalist ― supporters of bringing the six northern Irish counties still controlled by Britain into a united Ireland.
The UVF is a “loyalist” paramilitary ― supporters of the ongoing “union” with Britain. It is committed to combating the “threat” of Irish republicanism and has been responsible for killing hundreds of mainly Catholic civilians since the 1960s.
Since the six county statelet was founded in 1921, the Protestant majority have been granted privileges to ensure their loyalty to British rule. The Catholic minority has faced discrimination and violent repression.
Irish Republican News reported on July 10 that UVF-organised rioting had broken out in the towns of Ballyclare and Carrickfergus, and the north Belfast suburb of Newtownabbey after the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) removed UVF flags.
But the violence rose further as the “marching season” reached its height on July 11 and 12.
This is the period during which the sectarian anti-Catholic Orange Order holds provocative marches, often through Catholic areas, to commemorate the “Battle of the Boyne”, the victory of the Protestant forces of William of Orange over Catholic opponents in 1690.
IRN said on July 13: “A series of sectarian and racist attacks were carried out by loyalists in the nights leading up to the 'Eleventh Night' bonfires and the 'Twelfth' marches.”
It said a church in Ballymena, County Antrim, was vandalised in what Irish republican party Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly Daithi McKay called a sectarain effort to “ratchet up tensions”.
IRN said: “Several homes of nationalists were targeted in Magherafelt as loyalists gathered near a bonfire.” It said the attacks were linked to the UVF.
“The bonfires themselves were, as usual, monuments to sectarian hate, carrying slogans such as 'Kill All Taigs' [an offensive term for Catholics], and topped with posters of nationalist politicians and Irish tricolour flags.”
Sinn Fein Magherafelt District councillor Ian Milne said a banner that was placed on the bonfire calling for his murder was “incitement to violence”.
IRN said another banner on a bonfire in Mount Vernon in north Belfast said “'MVT back in action' ― a reference to the UVF murder gang who colluded with British forces during the mid-1970s”.
IRN pointed to increased attacks, blamed on the UVF, on homes of families from continental Europe “who are frequently subjected to attack by loyalists for a mix of territorial, racist and sectarian reasons”.
It said: “Houses were set on fire on the interface at the Whitewell Road in north Belfast on Monday night, while the homes of at least five foreign nationals were targeted by loyalists in Ballymena and Portadown.”
A shot was also fired on July 10 into the home of a Polish family.
The homes of three foreign nationals were attacked by masked loyalists in Portadown on July 12, IRN said.
Sinn Fein spokesperson John O'Dowd highlighted the sudden disappearance of the PSNI before the violence.
The PSNI's predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was infamous for violent repression of Catholics and nationalists.
In a statement, the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents Committee said the withdrawal of the PSNI was "extremely reminiscent" of previous pre-planned loyalist assaults on Craigwell Avenue during the late 1990s.
UTV News said on July 14 that on the night of July 12, two members of a football team in the north Belfast largely Catholic suburb of Ardoyne were seriously injured when their team was violently attacked by a loyalist gang armed with golf clubs, knives and bottles.
The victims were left with stab wounds, a broken leg and facial injuries requiring stitches.
UTV News quoted one of the victims, 31-year-old Anto Braniff, saying: "That gang were out to cause serious injury or even kill the first Catholic they came across and it just happened to be us."
“A police spokesperson said a motive for the attack had yet to be established,” UTV News said.
Last year, the sectarian Orange Order march through the largely Catholic area of Ardoyne led to three days of rioting. The Orange Order refused to negotiate a re-routing of the march.
The IRN said: “The PSNI laid siege to the Ardoyne from early in the day in order to prevent nationalists from blocking the Crumlin Road, resulting in a violent confrontation with some residents.”
A water cannon and plastic bullets were used against residents seeking to block the march.
“Disturbances later spread across Belfast and to nationalist areas of Derry, Newry, Armagh and Ballymena in varying intensity.
“In the early hours of the morning, PSNI snatch squads moved in, arresting 26 youths ― including children as young as 12 and 14 years old, in Belfast and Derry respectively.”
Despite a commitment made by the PSNI in 2007 that plastic bullets, which have killed 17 people in Northern Ireland since the late 1960s, also would not be used in “public order situations”, the police also fired 51 plastic bullets at young nationalists in north and west Belfast during rioting on July 11.
In Ardoyne on July 12, police fired 55 plastic bullets at protesters.
IRN said nationalist residents were angry at the PSNI actions. "'I wonder are the police going to apologise to us tomorrow?" asked one woman, referring to the extraordinary apology issued by the PSNI to loyalist rioters in Ballyclare last week.”
[Sinn Fein leader and member of Ireland's parliament Martin Ferris is touring Australia during July to speak about the struggle for a united Ireland, the peace process and the economic crisis. He will speak at:
Details of meetings with Ferris
* PERTH: Wednesday July 27, 7.30pm. Irish Club, 61 Townshend Rd, Subiaco. $5 entry - tickets at door.
* SYDNEY: Thursday July 28, 7.30pm. Maritime Union of Australia office, 365 Sussex Street. $5 entry - tickets at door.
* MELBOURNE: Saturday July 30, 7.30pm. Celtic Club, 316-320 Queen Street. Supper and entertainment. $40 entry. Tickets available at door. Ph John 0407 863 291.
For more information, phone Emma on 0450 835 189.]