Antebellum Antrim Town - still a cold house for Catholics and a fridge freezer for Irish Republicanshttp://lark.phoblacht.net/antebellumantrim.html
Sean Mc Aughey • 14 July 2004
It is widely known in Antrim Town that unionist paramilitaries, "pro agreement and on ceasefire" gunned down 19 year-old Ciaran Cummings on July 4th 2001. The Red Hand Defenders claimed they were responsibility for the slaying. Which they say was retaliation against nationalists voters who elected two Sinn Fein councillors to the Antrim Borough Council three weeks previous.
Former first minister of the Assembly and UUP leader David Trimble blamed Irish Republicans for the murder saying it was drugs related. Trimble retracted this statement a day later. The Cummings' family are still harassed and taunted by local unionist paramilitaries. The Cummings' home and car has been vandalized; the family memorials are desecrated, burned and destroyed. No one has been prosecuted for the murder.
Antrim Town for many Nationalists is an unacknowledged story of loyalist violence, hatred, intimidation and fear. Many privately admit such fear but few will go on public record because reprisals from Loyalists come quickly and local politicians, clergy, police, teachers, journalists and some peace campaigners stay mum.
Catholic Church records in February 2003 reveal that 1400 Catholics left Antrim Town since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Further published reports from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) document at least 90 Catholic families have been forced out of their homes since May 2002. Targeted families, include Catholic members of the British forces, and mixed religious marriages.
To date only Sinn Fein highlight what appears to be an ongoing unionist paramilitary inspired and orchestrated pogrom against Catholics. Most other politicians remain silent about the mass exodus of citizens or comment weakly, condemning unionist perpetrators as mindless or describing Catholic intimidation as isolated. But for Catholics in Antrim Town the loyalist intimidation appears precise and well thought out.
In September 2002, the PSNI gave the local press a distorted and incredible account of the situation affecting Catholics in the area. Despite the NIHE publication of precise exodus figures in the local press and a fullest breakdown of Antrim estates affected. The Chief Operations Manager of the Antrim PSNI, Nick Purce told the Belfast Newsletter that the predominantly nationalist Rathenraw estate was one of the highest percentage areas of intimidation, when Rathenraw is attributed with less than 1% of the mass Antrim exodus by the NIHE.
But, what the police account had so glibly avoided is the fact the only 1 Rathenraw family had fled Antrim Town after countless death threats from unionist paramilitaries. The greater insult to Irish nationalists living in Antrim Town is the desperate perpetuation of a unionist myth that the family fled not from unionist paramilitary intimidation but because of tit-for-tat violence.
St. Malachy's Catholic High School in Antrim Town has many parallels with Holy Cross Girls School in Ardoyne. In April 2001 unionist paramilitaries first showed up at St. Malachy's High School gates. Schoolchildren have since faced up to 150 unionist "protestors" accompanied by their Pitbull terriers, Dobermans, Alsatian dogs and the Antrim Town Progressive Unionist Party representative, Ken Wilkinson.
The Catholic School buses were attacked; children were assaulted and taunted. School authorities deny there is a problem at the school. Unionists ascribe the problem to one man's presence, Paddy Murray, a former IRA Prisoner and until very recently the Chairman of Antrim Sinn Fein. Murray's presence was given as a reason for the protest, but is that the case? He is despised by loyalist paramilitaries in the area and graffiti warns Murray to "watch his back" and to "remember Ciaran Cummings ha ha".
In March 2002, Paddy agreed to stay away from the Catholic school even though his son was a pupil. More than 2 years later the Loyalist gangs still return to the school and Catholic children continue to be intimidated and assaulted.
St. Malachy's parents held two public meeting concerning the safety and welfare of all Antrim school children. Political, religious, community leaders, educators and the board of governors among others were invited. But only Sinn Fein and Mr. Sean Quinn, headmaster of St Malachy's attended the meetings.
All too familiarly, the "loyalist protest" occurs under the eye of a watchful but idle police force. The PSNI claim they are upholding unionists' rights to protest and unionist paramilitary flags and emblems and red white and blue lampposts containing the initials of the Ulster Volunteer Force now surround St Malachy's school.
But, there is a belief in his community that Murray is not only a scapegoat at the school but that he also serves as a sacrificial lamb for those politicians who are afraid to face up to the loyalist gangs. Many nationalists also believe that the PSNI are unwilling to act against the loyalist gangs. The so-called new police service claims to utilize "a mirror policing policy" which may on face value seem fair but it is a policy that creates more problems than it solves. The mirror policing policy is akin to good cop - bad cop on a community scale. One day the cops treat nationalists unfairly and the next time out it is the Unionists turn. This policy will be elaborated in the later paragraphs of this article.
In July 2003 trees surrounding Murray's home on the Rathenraw estate were cut to the ground. The trees serve as a natural boundary and for the beleaguered Rathenraw residents as a "peace" wall separating and protecting them from the Stiles Estate, the source of many unionist paramilitary attacks. Many trees were felled before the residents' group could halt the NIHE action.
The NIHE claimed they were engaged in routine pruning. But, International observers, including IAUC member, Carol Russell, witnessed and photographed the action. The tree cutting and felling left nationalists feeling more vulnerable than ever to attack. And within a week after the NIHE action, Paddy Murray, who has three children including 2 infants, and Aine Gribbon, a mother of eight who recently stood in the council elections as a Sinn Fein candidate, were both visited by the PSNI and told they are on a UDA death list. Murray's name is at the top.
The PSNI admitted to the press they had asked the NIHE to cut down the trees for "security" reasons. The NIHE denied colluding with the PSNI in the same article. NIHE officials and PSNI members later informed the Rathenraw residents that trees on the Stiles Estate will also be cut down. This statutory approach fully adheres and illustrates the logic of "mirror policing". Which ought to be understood, as meaning Catholics shouldn't feel too aggrieved because Protestants living across the road will now feel just as vulnerable as they do and this is fair and balanced policing.
Antrim Town is regarded as a garrison town but the psyche of the most dominant gaze resembles a genteel American deep south outback more than any British village. Much of the town is covered in a plethora of unionist paramilitary flags and other unionist emblems and loyalist young militant gangs armed with hatchets or meat cleavers roam the town attacking catholic schoolchildren. Sinn Fein European election posters and the Irish national flag Irish are regarded as antagonistic and therefore removed by the police. Nationalists claim the same SF posters and Irish flag were later seen placed on 11th night loyalist bonfires in the town.
This article is far from definitive, it is simply a brief synopsis on an Antrim taboo and backdrop that nationalists confront each day. Many unionist spokesmen have already said there was never any sectarian trouble in Antrim until Murray arrived. Unfortunately some prominent nationalists are quick to acquiesce concerning the Republican POW presence. There are others also who would rather believe that there is no sectarian problem in the town at all, just a Paddy Murray problem. On June 28th 2004 at about 4am a bomb exploded at Murray's family home in Rathenraw which is the most recent attack, no political representatives have visited or contacted him or his family, an SDLP representative has voiced some public concern and a loyalist spokesman has publicly denied any loyalist paramilitary involvement in the bomb attack but the Loyalist spokesman described the IRA POW as "a disruptive presence".