By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The nightly loyalist onslaught against Catholics in North Belfast is continuing despite pleas from Protestant ministers and British government spokesmen for an end to the blast- and pipe-bomb attacks that are forcing families to move.
A British soldier was critically injured in a UDA blast bomb attack in Ardoyne, joining the increasingly long list of people injured and maimed by the campaign against nationalists in the district.
Another soldier, this time a member of the Royal Irish Regiment, has been charged with the murder of a Catholic man, 27-year-old Colin Foy, who was shot dead in a hotel bar in the County Tyrone village of Fivemiletown on Sunday night. He gave himself up to police.
Meanwhile, loyalist groups are refusing to consider reciprocating the IRA’s move and begin decommissioning their weapons. They are not under the same pressure as loyalist political parties, do not have the same electoral support as Sinn Fein, and are ineligible for ministerial office.
The loyalist cease-fires of October 1994 are conditional on the union remaining safe. Leaders have always refused to consider actual decommissioning.
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Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, has said loyalist politicians must put pressure on paramilitary groups to follow the lead of the IRA. “Don’t tell me what you can’t do,” he said. “Ask yourself, is there anything positive we can do to help this process?”
But Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links to the Ulster Volunteer Force, said loyalists would not disarm in response to the IRA. “You are asking loyalists to decommission weapons to keep two republicans in government,” he said.
Republicans say the moves made by the British government to dismantle border watchtowers, particularly in South Armagh, has been derisory. Although two towers were dismantled, with reporters and camera crews flown in by helicopter to film the sparks flying, 27 remain.
After eight weeks of violence, loyalists are still refusing to speak to Catholic parents whose daughters attend Holy Cross school in Ardoyne. On Wednesday, they tried to block another three Catholic schools in North Belfast, preventing nationalist parents from bringing their children home from school.
It was a further escalation in the ongoing campaign against Catholic children who have to endure a twice-daily gauntlet of abuse outside Holy Cross school. Dog excrement, balloons full of urine, spit, rocks and a bomb have also been thrown at children.
Many nationalists believe the campaign is being orchestrated by the UDA, a grouping deeply involved in drugs and racketeering and whose cease-fire was de-recognized this month by the British government, on RUC advice.
In North Belfast, where the vast majority of the most serious recent loyalist attacks are taking place, there has been a pipe bombing a day in recent weeks as well as attacks with bricks, bolts, bottles, sticks, batons, hammers, hatchets, fireworks, petrol and paint.
The violence is not confined to Belfast. In Derry last week, an SDLP councilor and his family escaped death in a pipe bomb attack on their house.
Gerard Diver, his wife and four children were in their home in the Waterside area when the device exploded. The front door was blown in and shrapnel damage was caused to the inside of the house.
The attack followed a loyalist incursion on the previous night when a number of pipe bombs were thrown at Catholic homes in Belfast. Two bombs exploded close to homes on the junction of Duncairn Gardens and Hallidays Road.
A third device failed to detonate after being thrown at a house on Newington Street. On the same night several hundred loyalists attacked nationalist residents in the Whitewell area of North Belfast after a failed incursion attempt.
On Thursday a group of people standing on the Antrim Road narrowly escaped injury when a pipe bomb was thrown at them from a passing car. The bomb, described by Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly as “a sophisticated grenade-type device,” failed to fully detonate.