Category: Archive

Shattered Peace: Loyalist violence claims young life

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST – An eighteen year-old Protestant youth was murdered in Belfast on Sunday evening, simply because loyalist gunmen thought he was a Catholic, the RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has said. And loyalist violence has continued unabated this week, with pipe bombs thrown nightly into nationalist areas and homes.

The continued violence prompted Northern Irish Secretary of State John Reid to say on Tuesday that he is reviewing the UDA ceasefire, and that he has received a "very worrying" report from the chief constable.

Flanagan himself condemned the killing of the Protestant youth, Gavin Brett. "Taken collectively, they represent the lowest form of so-called loyalist life – people who are prepared to killed on the basis that their victims may be Catholics." Loyalists calling themselves the Red Hand Defenders, a known cover name for the UDA, admitted the murder.

With the political vacuum continuing as a backdrop to the spiraling violence, there are fears of even worse to come. Speculation has been mounting that loyalists appear determined to provoke the IRA into retaliatory action by attacking vulnerable targets.

But Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, has said that the IRA is aware of loyalist intentions. He told a rally to commemorate 1981 hunger striker, Kieran Doherty, on Sunday, "What is happening…is an entirely planned effort to suck republicans back into war," demanding action by civic, church and political leaders.

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Brett, the Protestant teenager, was walking home from a birthday party late on Sunday night with a group of friends, some of them Catholic, when a drive-by gunman shot him dead. His father, a paramedic, was amongst the first on the scene but despite frantic efforts, his son died.

The dead man’s best friend, a Catholic, was also hit in the ankle. The shooting took place close to St. Enda’s GAA club in the mixed-religion Belfast suburb of Glengormley.

In admitting the killing, the so-called Red Hand Defenders cited a perceived lack of civil rights for Protestants and warning of an intensified and "ferocious" campaign ahead.

The same group has said all nationalists were considered "legitimate and hostile" targets. There have been 140 loyalist pipe-bombings in recent months.

Unionist leader David Trimble joined in condemning the killing, and called on loyalists to stop their campaign of violence. But he said that IRA decommissioning was still the key to ending the violence.

Adams has offered to meet the UDA leadership, if it would help convince them that they have nothing to fear from the peace process, in which – he said – republicans were demanding equality.

Accepting that some loyalists feel threatened by political change, he said that feeling did not justify the taking of life and was no excuse for the ongoing anti-Catholic attacks.

He also denied reports that the street violence was in any way of the "tit-for-tat" variety, echoing what the SDLP also said this week that the great majority of it was instigated by loyalists. Both parties condemned any retaliatory violence against Protestants.

A leading unionist – speaking in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Gavin Brett – called for republican decommissioning. Sir Reg Empey, the acting First Minister after Trimble’s resignation, said it made the handing over of all weapons even more urgent.

"Weapons", he said, "by their very existence in the hands of private armies pose a threat. The fact that loyalists are more active in their use does not deflect from the principle at stake and I believe that if the IRA disarms, the loyalists will follow and that deal with the entire matter and will mean the current attacks on Roman Catholics will cease".

Gary McMichael, the leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, which until recently said it spoke for the UDA, said he didn’t know what the gunmen intended. "They are the ones who know and perhaps they should say what they are at", he said.

Peter Robinson, the deputy leader of the DUP, says the Agreement is finished anyway and will require re-negotiation. "Every night we have violence, it must stop", he said.

Trimble said unease over the current political impasse could not justify the violence and he called on those with influence within loyalism to bring "this madness" to an end. David Burnside, the MP for the area where Gavin Brett was murdered, said the only solution was for the RUC to bring those responsible to justice.

The RUC chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said the UDA was involved in many of the recent pipe bombings and the Northern Secretary, John Reid, had an urgent meeting with him, saying he was "disgusted" by the "cowardly murder of this innocent young man".

In other attacks, British Army bomb experts made safe a pipe bomb at the entrance to the GAA grounds in Magherafelt, in Co. Derry. A RUC spokesman warned the public against touching any suspicious object as some loyalist pipe bombs are considered very unstable and there is a strong likelihood that the devices will explode if lifted.

In a statement the O’Donovan Rossa club said that up to 60 children regularly attend Sunday training sessions at its ground.

A pipe bomb was also found on a road at Serpentine Gardens, an interface area in north Belfast where there has been sporadic rioting along a peaceline over the past two weeks.

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