Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Loyalist terror in Garnerville

Jarlath Kearney:

Masked loyalists in East Belfast

Blast bombs, arson attacks, shootings, mass expulsions and death threats have collectively marked a sinister escalation in the activities of loyalist paramilitaries across the North.

The long-running loyalist feud led hundreds of Ulster Volunteer Force supporters to openly intimidate several prominent Loyalist Volunteer Force-linked families from their homes in the Garnerville area of east Belfast.

The expulsions took place on Sunday night directly opposite the PSNI training centre. Yesterday, scores of UVF supporters maintained a presence in Garnerville. PSNI and British army members did not intervene.

A house and a taxi office were targeted in separate blast-bomb and arson attacks in north Belfast on Sunday night. Those incidents followed several gun attacks over previous days.

Within hours of the expulsions, several north Belfast Catholics — including veteran Ardoyne republican Martin Meehan — received PSNI visits to advise them of imminent loyalist death threats.

Fears were growing last night that the deteriorating situation within the loyalist community will be exploited to launch attacks on republicans. In the past, similar loyalist attempts to destabilise the nationalist community have been directed by elements of the British government.

With the IRA nearing the climax of an unprecedented internal debate about future political strategies, the possibility of a loyalist attack on the nationalist community led to calls for vigilance.

Kathy Stanton, Sinn Féin assembly member for north Belfast, described the death threat against Martin Meehan as “part of a wider trend of intimidation by loyalists aimed at the nationalist community”.

“These latest threats against my party colleague from unionist paramilitaries is a sinister development,” Ms Stanton said.

“The threats against Martin Meehan reinforce the need for vigilance within the wider nationalist community in these tense summer months.

“Those who continue to coat-trail and march triumphantly through Catholic areas must also bear some responsibility for the continuing escalation of sectarian tensions,” Ms Stanton said.

Republicans also highlighted the “historic tolerance” of loyalist activity by the PSNI, British army and unionist politicians.

Ms Stanton said: “The sight of hundreds of UVF members pictured mingling with the PSNI and British army after forcing members of a rival gang from their homes in east Belfast is just the latest episode in this ongoing saga.

“The behaviour of the PSNI in Garnerville today contrasts sharply with their attitude towards nationalist residents in Ardoyne on July 12.”

Martin Meehan, whose family has been repeatedly targeted by loyalist paramilitaries, last night hit out at the PSNI for refusing to provide details of the group that was threatening him.

“I am contacting my legal advisers about the failure of the PSNI to provide me with information about the source of the threat. Those responsible for this threat will not deter me and I will continue to robustly defend the political objectives of Sinn Féin,” Mr Meehan said.

After a meeting with secretary of state Peter Hain, south Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell said: “Just today we have seen the UVF yet again run amok in their feud with the LVF.

“It is outrageous that they feel so emboldened that they can gather and intimidate people in broad daylight. It is outrageous that, 11 years on from the ceasefires, people are expected to turn a blind eye to all of this madness.”

Henry Irvine, the PSNI district commander in east Belfast, said: “These situations, as we often say, cannot be resolved by police alone. But let me assure you my officers are on the ground and are working hard to resolve the tensions.”

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