A young couple who are both Alliance councillors have said they may be forced to flee their Bangor home permanently after it was attacked by a loyalist mob.
Pregnant Christine Bower (27), her husband Michael (26) and their 17-month-old baby girl have been left terrified after their home was paint-bombed on Wednesday night.
Mrs Bower said she had just gone to bed with their daughter Grace at about 11.15pm when she heard “two huge bangs”.
“We didn’t know what it was and Michael came running in to tell us to get off the bed and get on the floor,” the young mother recalled.
The paint-bomb smashed the couple’s living room window but didn’t make it all the way through. It landed just feet away from their ground floor bedroom.
What remained of the shattered pane of glass yesterday lay in their front garden, coated in thick white paint.
A second device also ricocheted off the window and bounced into a neighbour’s garden.
On the other side of the smashed window lies a collection of little Grace’s favourite toys. The toddler had been playing there just a short time before the missiles were hurled at her home.
The Bowers’ home came under fire on a night of serious and sustained attacks against Alliance Party property and politicians after the party backed a vote to only fly the union flag over Belfast City Hall on designated days.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from their Bangor home, Mrs Bower said she believed anti-Alliance “propaganda by the unionist parties” was linked to the violence.
“I don’t know if people will admit they are wrong but they need to come out and say this is wrong,” she said.
“I felt disgusted, angry and scared for Grace — and thankful that the paint bomb didn’t come right through the window.
“Grace cried because we had to trail her out of bed. She didn’t know why her mummy had brought her out of bed and was sitting on the floor with her.”
Mr Bower was sitting in the living room when the mob struck.
“The first place I ran to was the bedroom and screamed for them to get down,” he said.
“This needs to be de-escalated — we need the protests and intimidation to stop because if this carries on then something worse will happen to someone else.”
Mrs Bower works for Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry, whose offices in Bangor were also damaged in the recent violence.
She said the family may have to move from their home of three years.
“We still feel upset, shaken and don’t want to sleep in our bedroom,” she said.
“I’ll give it a chance here but if we are not feeling safe living here — there is the fear of something else happening. People still know where we are.”
Visiting his colleagues at their home yesterday, the minister said he was “appalled at the concerted campaign” against his party and its members.
“This has been organised on social media by, in some cases, named individuals,” he said.
“It’s quite clear when masked people are called out into the streets this spills out into violence,” he said.
We didn’t orchestrate this violence and we’re unable to stop it, insist paramilitary leaders
By Brian Rowan
Senior loyalist leaders claim to have been left powerless by the City Hall flag row and insist they are unable to intervene to stop the street violence.
Indeed such is the mood and seriousness of the situation, even prominent paramilitary figures would only speak to this newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
“The emotion is so raw you can’t interfere in this,” one loyalist told me. “They’ll just tell you to f*** off. This is real anger,” the source continued.
“Logic goes out the window. The emotion is so high you just have to let it flow,” he said.
A number of senior loyalists who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph strenuously denied the violence — including the attacks on Alliance offices and homes — is being directed by paramilitary commanders.
“It’s not orchestrated,” a leadership figure said. “It’s community revulsion.”
And, in a clear illustration of how loyalist leaders are standing back, another source said: “I’m not telling people to put flags up, but I’m not telling them to take them down.”
The one loyalist who agreed to speak on the record was the PUP leader Billy Hutchinson.
In a reference to the protests and violence, he said: “No paramilitary organisation is leading this. The way to attack the Alliance Party is at the ballot box. Nobody should be attacking them with violence.
“Any violence around these protests is drowning out the message, and the message is people want to fly the flag because we are British,” he said.
“People feel their dignity is being attacked.”
The PUP leader and other senior loyalists who spoke to this newspaper blamed Sinn Fein for the protests and violence, saying that the party’s call for a reconciliation initiative is contradicted by the City Hall flag decision.
“It doesn’t match up,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Another loyalist put it much
more bluntly: “It’s not over a flag,” he said. “They [republicans] don’t want us to be British. They are not going to make Northern Ireland a grey, neutral area.
“We need to be very careful here,” he added.
“It’s a mess.”
And with more protests planned, including one in Belfast city centre tomorrow, the senior loyalist warned: “I’ve never seen so many angry people.”
But he added that when it comes to expressing that anger, “we can’t let the horses go galloping.”
And in a reference to Sinn Fein, he said: “They are making life very, very difficult.”
Alliance was partly to blame: WilsonComments: Sammy Wilson
By Liam Clarke
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has said that the Alliance party was “partially to blame” for attacks on its members and the burning of one of its offices by rampaging loyalists.
Mr Wilson made the comments directly to Stewart Dickson, an Alliance MLA, when he visited Mr Dickson’s gutted Carrickfergus office to condemn the loyalists who torched it.
“I said it to Stewart Dickson’s face today ‘Stewart your party also has to take some of the responsibility for what has happened’. I am saying that the Alliance Party have a right to express their views on the flag. They also have a responsibility to consider the outcome of expressing those views,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Wilson is the MP for East Antrim where the office is. He said he strongly condemned the action of the loyalist mob, describing it as “an attack on democracy”.
However he said that Alliance should have anticipated what would happen after they voted against unionists to reduce the number of days the flag was flown above Belfast City Hall.
“The Alliance members of Belfast City Council are not stupid enough to think that there will be no consequences stemming from that. I am not saying they deserved it but I am saying they should have known the consequences of their decision,” Mr Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph.
He went on to call for attacks to stop and for the organiser of protests around the flag issue to take responsibility for their actions.
“Just as the Alliance Party have a responsibility to consider the outcome of expressing there views I believe that people organising the march have a duty to consider the outcome. If they cannot guarantee that won’t lead to further disruption and a further weakening of the unionist cause then they should call it off,” he said.