By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Gerard Lawlor, the 19-year-old Catholic shot dead by the UDA, was buried last Thursday amid outpourings of grief. The dead man’s fiancTe, Siobhan, his parents, John and Sharon, and his four brothers led the mourners.
Catholics in North Belfast are waiting to see if dire predictions from the UDA of more murders to come are just threats, or a portent of more killings ahead.
Some Belfast newspapers carried reports last Sunday of unnamed loyalist spokesmen threatening more violence. The North Belfast leader of the UDA, said to be a man of Egyptian origin named Andre Khaled Shoukri, was quoted saying he would “hit back” 10 times as hard if republicans attacked Protestant targets.
On Saturday and Sunday night, there was rioting in the Sandy Row area of Belfast city center, a mere 100 yards from some of the city’s most popular pubs and clubs. There is no nationalist housing in this area, however, and the police bore the brunt of the loyalist violence.
On Thursday, more than 1,000 people packed St. Gerard’s church in North Belfast, not far from where Lawlor’s body was found in the early hours of the previous Monday morning, for the funeral of the murdered man. He was apparently targeted because he was wearing a Celtic soccer jersey. Celtic is a team favored by many Northern nationalists.
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The funeral Mass was notable for the outspoken homily given by the bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Patrick Walsh. Many SDLP and Sinn Fein members attended. No Unionist politicians were present, although many had condemned the murder.
Outside the Lawlor family home, hundreds of mourners stood in silence. The dead man’s four brothers shouldered his coffin as the cortege left for the church, a few hundred yards away.
They stopped for a minute’s silence as the coffin passed the spot where Lawlor, the father of an 18-month-old boy, was gunned down. The coffin was accompanied by a blue and white floral wreath bearing the word “Daddy.”
Another wreath carrying a simple tribute in the colors of the dead man’s GAA team St. Enda’s bore the words “A Chara” — beloved. Mourners included the family of Protestant teenager Gavin Brett, whom Gerard had known and who last year was also murdered by the UDA.
It was also discovered that the dead man had also known Danny McColgan, the mailman murdered in January this year by the UDA. All three were gunned down in the same general area by the UDA.
Inside the church mourners heard parish priest Fr. Gerard Cassidy pay tribute to a young man as a “ray of sunshine” to his loved ones.
In an intense and sometimes angry-sounding homily, Bishop Walsh spoke of the pall of fear that had gripped the community since Lawlor’s death.
“Sunday night was a night of manifest raw, sectarian hatred which could have resulted in multiple murders and which, indeed, did culminate in the murder of Gerard, a totally innocent young man,” he said.
“Murdered for one reason and one reason only — that he was a Catholic. For some, being a Catholic is a crime deemed to merit execution.”
He accused politicians with “sanctimonious faces and voices” of “dancing on Gerard’s grave” and begged them all to have the courage to stand united against paramilitary violence.
“It was hatred that murdered Gerard and there is a deadly progression in hatred from the first sowing of the seed of hatred in young minds to hurling pipe bombs and being armed as a member of a paramilitary gang,” he said. “People in every part of North Belfast need and demand and are entitled to full protection. Those in authority must ensure that they receive it.”
Schoolboys dressed in the colors of St Enda’s GAA club formed a guard of honor. Members of the club wore orange and black ribbons in their lapels as a mark of respect for their murdered teammate. The dead man is the fifth member of the club to have been murdered during the Troubles.
The deputy chairman of the Police Board, former Derry priest Denis Bradley, has accused the police of not doing enough to prevent loyalist attacks, saying the paramilitaries had to be taken on if communities were to be protected.
Bradley said he does not believe there has been adequate police response to loyalist violence.
“As someone who comes from the nationalist community, I should interpret, if I can, and if I’m accurate, there is within the nationalist people a certain anger,” he said.
“A lot of the perspective has been on the IRA. . . . The IRA have certainly been way out of line around a lot of issues. At this moment in time there are a number of young Catholics who have been killed. A lot of pipe bombs have been thrown.
“There has not been enough done by the police and by the security situation to actually protect, take on and deal — in whatever appropriate manner — with people like the UDA who are not necessarily doing any of this for political reasons.”
Bradley’s comments were criticized by his fellow Police Board member, Ian Paisley Jr., who said the remarks would lower morale among officers.
Meanwhile, Belfast’s mayor, Alex Maskey, has said a demonstration against sectarianism will be held in the city this Friday to express revulsion at Lawlor’s murder.
Maskey said he is also planning to set up a working group aimed at tackling sectarianism.
“Many people out there in the community were going into almost despair once again and I felt that to stand back and to do nothing was simply not an option,” he said.
The Sinn FTin president, Gerry Adams, met with Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, to raise his concerns about sectarian hatred and said afterward, “There is an planned, organized campaign by loyalists against Catholics.
“The unionist response is to seek our exclusion from our rightful place on the Executive. This is disgraceful.”
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has welcomed a decision by Belfast City Council to hold a rally next Friday. Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary, ICTU, said the council had shown leadership against sectarianism.
“It is only six months since tens of thousands of people throughout Northern Ireland responded to the trade union call to condemn murder and sectarianism in our community,” he said. “The ICTU condemns the atrocities carried out by paramilitaries, regardless of what tradition that they claim. Our attendance will reinforce the message that sectarianism kills and that paramilitaries have not offered freedom, justice, equality or security, but only the ever spiraling decline into economic and social deprivation, loss of jobs and the growth of hatred in our community.”