COMMUNITY RELATIONS: CURRENT ISSUES (MAY-JUNE 2004)
UVF were blamed for the Murder of LVF man Brian Stewart. The threat of retaliation has lead to fear of a loyalist feud. Following on from this incident a number of bombs in East Belfast and Holywood lead to nine families presenting themselves as homeless to the Housing executive. The PSNI chief constable, Hugh Orde, suggest that the real reason for the upsurge in violence was a 'sordid turf war' between drug peddlers 'hiding behind the cause of loyalism'.
A group calling itself the Loyalist Action Force, thought to be a cover name for the UDA, was blamed for placing a pipe bomb at the home of a member of Sinn Fein in Ballymena and issuing a death threat against the Sinn Fein Assembly member Philip McGuigan.
A Real IRA bomb plot, reportedly destined for Belfast city centre, was aborted in the west of the city when the car carrying the bomb exploded prematurely, engulfing the bombers in flames. One of the men fell out of the car with his clothes on fire. The other man tried to extinguish the flames. The men then got back into the vehicle and sped off. The Real IRA also forced three boys to leave their homes in the Cairnhill estate in Derry/Londonderry. The teenage boys were given 24 hours to leave the area. The three were accused by the Real IRA of anti-social behaviour and were threatened with being shot if they remained on the estate.
A security alert at the West Belfast offices of SDLP MLA Alex Attwood was declared a hoax after army technical officers examined a suspect package. The bomb alert comes weeks after a parcel bomb was delivered to the Northern Ireland Policing Board addressed to the MLA.
A 21 year-old man was shot in the leg off the Ballygomartin Road in North Belfast.
Shots were fired at the window of house in the Ballybeen estate in Dundonald. Shot were also fired at the home of three adults and five children in Ardcarne Park, Newry. The Army dealt with a suspect device at the home of a PSNI officer in Ballymena and a bomb hoax in Ardmore Terrace, Coalisland. Guns and ammunition, believed to belong to dissident republicans, were recovered near St Partick's Academy in Dungannon and loyalists were blamed for throwing two pipe bombs at the home of a Sinn Fein member in Ballymena and attacking the home of South Belfast SDLP MLA Carmel Hanna.
Following on from the fines imposed on parties linked to paramilitaries last month, the PUP refused to meet with the IMC and was reported to be sending a document in reply to the IMC report highlighting the work members of the party have done to try and bring an end to paramilitary attacks and conflict.
Loyalists threatened to take the government to court over conditions at Maghaberry prison. Representatives of the UVF and RHC inmates claim they are being discriminated against. Loyalists and Republicans have been segregated in the prison due to security fears. But a loyalists prisoners groups (the post conflict prisoners support group) claimed exercise and health facilitates in the specially equipped cell blocks are not up to standard.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Newsletter the leadership of the UVF warned that the peace process is 'at a crossroads' and the organisation remains ready for war. It also declared that it is not pro-Agreement and has grave concerns about how the Good Friday deal has been implemented.
New figures released indicate that fewer people have been intimidated from their homes. A Housing Executive report showed that 1,245 people presented themselves homeless as a result of intimidation in 2004 compared to 1628 in 2003. The represents a decrease of 22 per cent.
Three houses were damaged in an attack in Newtownabbey. Paint was through at the properties and cars in Bawnmore Park and one house had windows smashed. Republicans were blamed for damaging fourteen cars in the Loyalist Rathcoole Estate, Newtownabbey.
Two petrol bombs were through at New Barnsley police station in West Belfast. In Derry/Londonderry children from the Loyalist fountain area were blamed for throwing a petrol bomb at house on the Horace Street interface.
PSNI confirmed that they had to confront a group of around 40 loyalists from the Donegall Pass area, thought to be attempting to attack houses on McClure Street on the Lower Ormeau Road. Suspicion is that the attempted attack is connected to a UVF announcement that it was withdrawing from interface dialogue.
A number of families were intimidated from their homes in East Belfast. The Housing Executive was forced to place the families in hotels in the city due to a lack of emergency housing provisions. The members of some the families then damaged the hotel rooms they were staying in and the Housing Executive was presented with a bill of £240 to cover the damage.
Hundreds of loyalists from South Belfast Sandy row marched on a block of Apartments amid tensions following threat to forcibly remove Catholics living in the mainly Protestant area. Previously, sectarian leaflets had been distributed in the area calling for Catholics to be force out. The same area has been seen of a number of racist attacks in the past few months. UUP councillor Bob Stoker caused anger by claiming that the Loyalists protests were a response to attacks on Protestants by 'Republicans' living in the Sandy Row. In the following week eight windows and a glass door in the Apartment block were smashed. UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey condemned the attack, but insisted that Protestants had been provoked.
Lisburn City Council has been criticised for its failure to share power. The failure of Unionists to enter in to power sharing with nationalists had already lead to concerns being raised by the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. However, in reply to this concern being voiced Unionist councillors wrote to the Irish premier telling him to 'mind his own business'. This was then followed up by a motion in Fermanagh District Council condemning Unionists failure to share power. In reply to this second criticism DUP councillor Paul Porter dismissed the condemnation as 'meaningless'. He then continued, 'Fermanagh council will have a right to criticise us when the repatriate all of the Protestant Farmers who have been driven off their land by Sinn Fein/IRA over last 35 years'.
- A loyalist flute band announced that it was considering legal action over the Parades Commission ban on playing The Sash while passing a Catholic church in east Belfast. The Pride of the Raven Flute Band said that it was considering challenging restrictions on playing music while passing St Matthews Church on the Newtownards Road.
- The PSNI in Ballymena made stringent efforts to enforce local bylaws that ban drinking alcohol in public places during a parade through the town. The parade passed of with little incident, although sectarian taunts were exchanged between a small group of nationalist protestors and some of the parades supporters.
Minority Ethnic Groups
- A woman was hurt in a racist attack in Botanic Avenue in South Belfast. The victim who is understood to be of Korean origin, was struck and racially abused by a man as she walked along Lower Crescent. A spokeswoman for the PSNI said that they were alerted to an incident of alleged assault. However, no complaint had been made.
- The Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Robin Eames condemned the recent rise in racist attacks. 'In both our jurisdictions racial attacks on people and homes are sinister and threatening for the future. We condemn without reservation such attacks on people because of class, colour or creed', said Dr Eames.
Victims and Survivors
- The NIO announced that it will start a pre-consultation initiative shortly to find a mechanism on how to proceed with 'dealing with the past' by first talking with victims groups, academics and churches. This, it was announced, will be followed by a much wider consultation process with the general public, possibly in 2005. As part of this process, Secretary of State Paul Murphy visited South Africa to hear about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- A memorial plaque, at Templeton beach Co Louth in the memory of Jean McConville who was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972 was smashed by vandals.
- A plaque in memory of three men who died in west Belfast at Kelly's Bar in 1972 was unveiled. The men were killed by a loyalist car bomb.
Equality and Human Rights
- NIO minister, John Speller announced that a new Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission will be appointed within months. A full team of commissioners will also be brought in as part of a major overhaul of the body set up under the Belfast Agreement.
- Government plans to crack down on unauthorized camping sites in Northern Ireland have been criticized by the Equality Commission. NIO minister, John Speller revealed plans to combat the 'nuisance' of Travellers and tourists in unofficial areas. The Equality Commission, however, voiced concerns over the proposals, suggesting that the proposed legislation would have 'a disproportionate impact on Travellers and, by criminalizing unauthorized camping, it will reinforce the widespread social exclusion already experienced by that community.'
- Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group launched a manifesto for integrated education. The AAPG manifesto includes calls for realistic level of funding, the achievement of growth targets, the development of integrated teacher training and a strengthening of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.
Crime and Policing
- The PSNI recovered a pistol, revolver and ammunition in Dungannon close to St Patrick's Girls School. They also, recovered a shotgun, pistol and other items likely to be of use to paramilitaries following a raid on a house in Newtownards.
- A weapon was found and a man arrested close to a car that had been abandoned at Suffolk Road in West Belfast.
- A court case against four men charged with membership of the Real IRA was deemed untenable by a judge in Belfast. The judge determined that the Real IRA was not a proscribed organization under the Terrorism Act 2000. This case highlights a potential loophole in the law. The UK government has subsequently said it will look closely at the judge decisions and, if necessary, take measures to rectify the situation. In the meantime the judge's decision is to be appealed.
- The Police Federation, which represents rank and file PSNI officers, pledged that it would deal with Sinn Fein if the political party ends its boycott of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
- The inaugural Policing with the Community Awards was held in Belfast City Hall. Nominees from each of the 29 different District Command Units throughout Northern Ireland were put forward for the awards categories of community police officer of the year, staff member of the year, probationer of the year, and a special partnership award.
- The government recommendations following the Review of Public Administration were announced. It seems that the number of councils will be significantly reduced from 26 to single figures. It would also, appear that the robust political decision-making arrangements will be introduced to ensure transparency, fairness and the protection of minority interests. However, it is unclear yet as to what these measures will involve.
- One of the largest military facilities in Northern Ireland is to be downgraded. The headquarters of the Thirty Ninth Infantry Brigade at Mahon Road in Portadown, that consists of 200 troops, will be disbanded in September.
- Following increasing concerns over the building of 11 July bonfires NIO minister for the environment issued an advisory leaflet. It contains recommendations for public bodies on action to improve the control of the annual bonfires and examples 'of good practice initiatives' for bonfire builders and communities.
- Following a years in which the Union Flag was not flown in Ards Borough Council, the lack of definitive advice from the Equality Commission result in an challenge being raised at a Council meeting by the UUP Councilor David McNarry. The decision was overturned and now the Union flag is to fly 360 days a year. Meanwhile Limvady Borough Council has taken the opposite approach, and following a Sinn Fein motion, all flags, including the Union flag, have been banned from Council property. This includes a ban during the 17 designated days as outlined by the Secretary of State. Some Unionist Councilors have suggest that they may press for a judicial review.
- The 'never on a Sunday' pressure continue this month when plans to attract up to 100,000 visitors to Portadown for an international market were put under threat by opposition from DUP Councilors who voted no in Craigavon Borough Council.
- Young people who suffered during the troubles are set to benefit from a £90,000 summer project being run by the Southern Education a Library Board. The SELB's youth service is asking registered youth organisations to apply for financial support under its Youth Intervention Programme.
- A report commissioned by the Youth Council was launched. The report was produced by Save the Children and the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM). It aim was to detail some of the reasons why children from minority faith groups do not use services outside their own communities. Author of the 'Count Me In' report, Dr Katy Radford said: 'All of the young people who took part had suffered some sort of discrimination, but we did not want to focus specifically on that, instead we wanted to give them the opportunity to do something positive.'