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News ::
Northern Ireland: "They Are Trying To Burn Us Out Of Our Homes"
04 Jun 2002

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has appealed for calm after four nights of rioting around the Catholic Short Strand district in east Belfast. Said Adams, "However we got into this situation and whatever the nature and character of the violence, my main effort today is not to be partisan but simply to say that it must stop. The people who live there are living in situations which are totally and absolutely unacceptable."

Five people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after last night’s clashes and the security forces are preparing for more of the same tonight. The Catholic Short Strand neighborhood is a small enclave surrounded by a Protestant one. According to nationalists, 150 properties have been damaged in the Short Strand area. At one stage last night, up to 1,000 people were involved in hand-to-hand fighting along the interface between the neighborhoods. Police blamed the fighting on paramilitaries representing both sides. On Sunday night three people - all Protestants - were wounded when a gunman opened fire on Cluan Place from the republican side.

This week’s violence followed a weekend of clashes which in the words of local councillor Joe O'Donnell, left the nationalist enclave of the Short Strand, "looking like Beirut." Many Catholic families had to be evacuated after they were threatened by loyalists that their houses were to be burnt out. As the demographic tide turns against them, loyalist paramilitaries have turned on the tiny Short Strand enclave in east Belfast in a bid to cleanse the growing Catholic population from the area. Councillor Joe O'Donnell said the attacks on the Short Strand were 'like 1969 all over again'. O’Donnell, the Sinn Fein representative for the area, confirmed that shots had been fired from the nationalist side but dismissed reports they, the Catholics, were the aggressors as absurd. "This area is completely surrounded by a wall and 70,000 unionists and yet we are the ones targeting them…A community like ours would be mad to try and start something when we are so heavily outnumbered. But that is the way it is being portrayed in the media." He said that while he did not condone the shootings, he felt the people were just trying to defend their homes. O'Donnell thought the reason behind the disturbances was an internal power struggle between the Protestant loyalist UDA and the UVF paramilitaries. "I would guess they [the UVF] are just flexing their muscle, because they have no natural interface in north Belfast, where the UDA have been doing all the business, and they just want to stage a show of strength. I don't even think they want to take over this area, they just want to do a lot of damage."

Margaret McDowell, a mother of three said, "They are trying to burn us out of our own homes just like they did in Bombay Street in 1969…They started attacking our homes on Friday night with pipe bombs, stones and petrol bombs… They broke all the windows in the houses and then they started throwing bags of petrol over onto the roofs to try and set the houses alight." She added, "They are attacking our homes because they want to force Catholics out of east Belfast. That is what this is all about, nothing else." Another local resident, Seán McVeigh said "The people in Cluan Place (The Protestant neighborhood surrounding Short Strand) are not responsible for this. It is the (loyalist) paramilitaries who come in and take over the area. Now, the residents can't tell them to get lost. I feel for them as much as I do for the people here. We wouldn't exactly be on each other's Christmas card lists, but we have always managed to sort out minor incidents between ourselves and the people in Cluan Place. They wouldn't muster 10 adults between them, they are just being used by the UVF, who are trying to destabilize the peace process." McVeigh rejected loyalist claims that the Provisional IRA was orchestrating the trouble. "Absolutely not. The people in the Short Strand are very politically mature, we will not allow ourselves to be used.
Sources: Irish Examiner, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Republican News and Information, Irish Times, Irish Independent

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