Illness, sleeplessness, nervous complaints, children unwilling to attend school, elderly people unable to attend doctors and living in terror of collecting their pensions, mothers unable to buy essentials for their babies — all are forcing some to seriously rethink living in the homes they have bought and cared for.
The difficulty will be, however, selling the homes they love and which are now virtually worthless. Many have plowed their life savings into their homes, building new extensions, kitchens and bathrooms. No-one will buy them now.
Many believe they are paying for the greater chance of equality enjoyed by the majority of Catholics as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Others believe that the UVF, which controls loyalists in that part of east Belfast, are trying to provoke an IRA response.
The community has made a video showing what they have endured over the summer. It depicts loyalists throwing missiles at Catholic housing in clear view of the police, and in some instances loyalists running through lines of police to throw missiles.
Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, told the video’s press launch that the British prime minister, Tony Blair, had in effect admitted his government’s failure to protect the Short Strand, as promised in the Agreement.
“Words about progress seemed hollow”, Adams said, “and they are hollow if you live in a vulnerable nationalist area like this. A thirty-foot high peaceline has not prevented loyalists climbing onto derelict houses across the wall and using them as vantage points to attack.
In the video (available from +44 2890 455892) the booming thud of pipe bombs, the flare of petrol bombs setting fire to trees, lighting the area’s roads and walkways with an eerie green light, captures not only the lethal potential of these weapons but also the panic they evoke.
“I have launched hundreds of books, paintings and other creative projects undertaken by individuals and communities,” said Adams, “but I take no pleasure in launching this video”.
Adams recounted a visit to the area a fortnight ago when he listened to a group of local women. “These were strong independent women, mature in their political thinking who recognised the ongoing attacks on their community by unionist paramilitaries as reaction against change”.
Adams said many journalists were just ordinary people trying to do a job but he said people kept awake all night because their homes were under constant attack were frustrated by media reports in which “victims were portrayed as perpetrators” and orchestrated attacks were described as “tit for tat”.
“Editors have an obligation to report what is happening here and happening in other communities suffering ongoing campaigns of sectarian violence,” said Adams. It was time the two governments, particularly the British government, took steps to stop this. The issue would be central to any forthcoming talks.
“Time after time the footage shows loyalists unchallenged by or filtering through the ranks of the PSNI and British army,” said Adams, “and lines of British soldiers and PSNI officers facing the nationalist community with their backs to loyalist aggressors.”
“I feel enormous admiration for the courage and fortitude of the people of the Short Strand and other nationalist communities of North Belfast and further afield for whom the Agreement has brought no improvements and who have been paying the price of rejectionist unionism.”
“We’ve been political pawns,” said a resident, “pushed into the front line in a unionist bid to destroy the peace process.”
Elsewhere, a 13-year-old schoolboy suffered head and face injuries after he was attacked by a ten strong gang of loyalists in Antrim. The boy had just left a cinema and was on his way home on Saturday afternoon, when the gang struck.
They are believed to be from the “Ulster Young Militants”, the UDA’s youth wing. The boy was beaten about the head and punched in the face, leaving him with a severe nose bleed.
It has also emerged that a senior LVF boss threatened a couple in a mixed relationship the previous weekend also in Antrim. The LVF gang went to the couple’s home on two occasions over the weekend of 2 and 3 November and told them to get out.
It has since been revealed that the man, who is a Catholic, has moved out. “I am sick sore and tired of highlighting the horrendous muted response from all other political representatives concerning attacks and intimidation against nationalists in South Antrim”, said Sinn Fein’s Martin Meehan.
“There is usually a mile long condemnation queue, if a stone is thrown by a nationalist in this borough, or indeed if any attack can be remotely attributed to republicans. But when a Catholic teenager is severely beaten on his way home from a film by a mob, the political silence is deafening.”
A pipe bomb thrown by loyalists over a “peaceline” in Portadown was defused at the weekend. The object was spotted on the middle of the road in a nationalist street.
Residents from about 20 houses in the area were evacuated to the nearby St Mary’s youth club during the clearance operation. Sinn Fein Upper Bann assembly member Dara O’Hagan said it was a clear attempt by loyalists to murder Catholics.
In Belfast, a 63-year-old grandfather had a lucky escape when loyalists targeted his home for the second time in recent months. The living room window of Francie Grogan’s home was smashed with a paving stone wrapped in a plastic bag at around 1am on Saturday morning.
Grogan said his grandchildren can no longer stay with him overnight for their own safety as it was getting too dangerous, “but how do you tell a three-year-old it’s for the best?”.
“Eight weeks ago I discovered the back window of my car had been broken and a pipe bomb had been thrown onto the back seat, I take my grandchildren to school in the car so it’s always a worry.”