Loyalists still threaten in East Antrim
Originally published between December 29, 2000 and January 1, 2001
In July 1997, an article was carried here titled "No dogs or Fenians." It was a report on sectarianism in East Antrim and was based on interviews with Catholics from Larne who had suffered at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.
Written in the week that the IRA reinstated its cessation of military operations, the article stated, "the test of the new peace process will be how such communities fare in the future."
Looking back over the intervening years and the extent to which the activities of loyalist death squads have affected the lives of nationalists in the North in general and the lives of nationalists living in vulnerable areas in particular it is tempting to say that the process has failed the test.
Just weeks ago, a nationalist councillor from Larne travelled to Dublin and handed in a dossier listing over 150 attacks on Catholics in the town to Brian Cowan the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The list included gun attacks, bomb attacks, petrol bombings and numerous physical assaults.
Among those targeted were a number of families who were on the receiving end of multiple attacks.
John Shaw and his family are in that category. Two months ago, a loyalist booby trap device exploded when Shaw and two friends went to dig fishing bait along the picturesque Belfast Lough just outside Larne. Shaw's friend took the brunt of the blast, receiving serious leg injuries. Three years prior to that, Shaw, his partner and baby daughter were lucky to escape with their lives when a bomb exploded under his van.
His uncle Bertie was shot dead by loyalists in 1993, while his cousin, Bertie junior, has been attacked by loyalists on more than one occasion.
However, while the media focus has been trained on Larne, loyalists have, it seems, systematically and deliberately targeted Catholics living in remote vulnerable areas of the North.
The proliferation of loyalist murals and graffiti is a sign that both the UDA and UVF are marking out 'their' territory.
Yet the central message of these murals, given that they mostly depict masked figures with guns, is that the core value of loyalism is violence and the threat to nationalists is clear and unequivocal.
Ballymena, the heart of the North's 'Bible Belt,' was synonymous with sectarian bigotry as loyalists picketed Catholics attending evening Mass in the Church of Our Lady chapel in Harryville between 1996 and 1998.
Citing the refusal of 'Catholics' to allow Orange Parades along Garvaghy Road in Armagh and the nearby village of Dunloy, the loyalists who maintained the picket attacked the church and Mass goers with regularity. On occasion, the area around the chapel was turned into a battlefield as rioting loyalists confronted the RUC.
Less than two weeks ago, the chapel was fire bombed for the umpteenth time.
Across the road from the chapel are the offices of the PUP. On a gable wall adjacent the chapel grounds is a mural celebrating the military prowess of the UDA while on the pavement in front of the chapel doors is a Red Hand of Ulster painting.
In Ballymoney, not far from Ballymena, that message of intimidation could not have been written larger. A UVF gang firebombed a home on the Carnanny estate in the early hours of the Twelfth morning in July 1998, killing the three Quinn children, Richard (10), Mark (9) and Jason (8). The attack came at the end of a campaign of terror aimed at all the Catholics who lived on the estate.
In towns like Ballynahinch in County Down, Coleraine in County Derry and indeed in the predominantly Unionist Waterside area of Derry City, where a taxi driver was shot and seriously wounded two weeks ago, attacks on Catholics have increased rapidly in the past year.
In the South Antrim area, particularly around Antrim Town, where Sinn Fein as a party has been making advances, loyalist paramilitaries have reacted with predictable violence.
How far anyone can go when it comes to analysing this loyalist violence is open to debate but an interesting aspect of it is that the violence is centred on areas where loyalists are in a majority. Also, quite a number of the towns where there are sustained attacks against Catholics/Nationalists are sited in the only two counties left in Ireland that have a unionist majority. They are Down and Antrim.
The murals certainly tell us that loyalism is not yet prepared to accept nationalists as equals. Loyalist violence can only be seen as the flip side of a political strategy that seeks victory over accommodation.
In terms of the unionist approach to the peace process, the notice hanging in the pub in Larne in 1997, "No Dogs or Fenians," might as well be hanging in Stormont - indeed it would not look out of place in David Trimble's office.
Articles may be reprinted with credit.
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