Friday, August 25, 2006

Sectarian attacks get usual hot air response

Brian Feeney:

Just before dawn on Sunday morning a group of masked men tore away part of the metal fencing guarding a family's central heating oil tank and set fire to the feed pipe, causing a huge fireball.

The flames engulfed the rear of the house and could easily have incinerated the woman and her three-month-old baby who were asleep in the upstairs bedroom. The bedroom itself was badly damaged by the blaze.

A few observations about this attack.

For about five years now, igniting the oil tank of a house has been the preferred loyalist method for terrorising Catholics out of a district.

It's simple and cowardly. There's no danger to the fire-raisers. They need no equipment like petrol bombs or any material which could incriminate them.

The result is instantly catastrophic to the house, so the residents have no alternative but to leave. This fate has befallen a number of Catholic families in the greater Belfast area but also, needless to say, in other parts of the north where Catholics are prey to murderous sectarian attacks.

Sunday's arson attack in the Whitewell district was a repeat of arson on oil tanks there last summer, which is why there were metal railings round the tank set on fire. Eventually loyalists will succeed in killing people when they carry out one of these attacks.

No-one has ever been convicted for one of these attacks. Indeed it would be interesting to know how many, if any, have even been arrested for questioning about one of these attacks.

At least in this recent case the police said they are treating the arson as sectarian. Usually trying to get the police to admit an attack is sectarian is like pulling teeth. Their normal and ridiculous response is that they are 'seeking a motive'.

In Whitewell the police know that the attacks are organised, that they come from an area which the UDA dominates and that for some time the UDA there has been organising provocative sectarian attacks to 'blood' its junior members. So far the police response has been sadly inadequate.

However, it's par for the course. Over the last few years when loyalist gangs have mounted sectarian campaigns against Catholics the police have been slow to take action and have largely failed to protect the Catholic population by doing anything proactive. That's what happened in Larne, in Ballymena and worst of all, Ahoghill.

Who can forget the crass intervention of the PSNI deputy chief constable Paul Leighton last summer who explained away sectarian attacks there as "disputes between neighbours" and because people weren't "getting on with each other"?

The fact is that sectarianism is endemic in the north – always has been. Go back 40 years before the UVF started shooting Catholics in an organised fashion and you'll find regular sectarian attacks taking place, though largely on property – Catholic schools, Orange halls, GAA grounds.

It doesn't change. Each summer there's a crescendo coinciding with the marching season as nationalist yahoos burn property associated with Orangeism and unionist yahoos attack Catholics.

What's remarkable is that nothing is done to address this most distinctive feature of the north, the feature which makes the place the cesspit it is.

Repeatedly British administrations here have refused to bring in effective anti-sectarian legislation, even on incitement to hatred.

The Equality Commission told a House of Commons Select Committee they couldn't enumerate sectarian incidents yet they can easily do it for racial incidents, even though the word 'racial' is a misnomer for most of the incidents.

Is there a special police unit to counter sectarian attacks? Has anyone ever been given a heavier sentence for a sectarian attack?

Here's what the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference agreed on July 25.

"The conference condemned recent sectarian incidents across Northern Ireland and recalled with deep regret the killing of Michael McIlveen in May. The two governments called on all those in positions of influence and leadership to work to combat all manifestations of sectarian hatred in their communities. For their part, they undertook to do all in their power to foster good community relations and to tackle the scourge of sectarianism."

Pathetic, isn't it?

After all these years, still just so much hot air.

'Burn Catholics' man was in UVF


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