Fury at claim 90% of Rathcoole estate residents linked to loyalist paramilitaries
Unionists have reacted angrily to claims that 90% of people living in Northern Ireland's largest housing estate had connections to loyalist paramilitaries.
The comments on the Rathcoole estate made by a retired detective superintendent at an inquest in Belfast on Tuesday have been labelled a "demonisation" by one community worker and also criticised by local politicians.
Former detective Roy Suitter's view that it was "very difficult" in Rathcoole not to have associations with paramilitaries were made during an inquest into the murder of Daniel McColgan. Mr McColgan, a 20-year-old Catholic father-of-one, was shot dead in January 2002 as he arrived for work at a postal depot in the Rathcoole area. Mr Suitters led the murder investigation.
During questioning at Belfast Coroner's Court on Tuesday, Mr Suitters said a possible suspect was later ruled out despite having connections to loyalist paramilitaries.
"He had associations to people who were connected to organisations," the Irish News reported him saying.
"But that would be 90% of people who lived in Rathcoole.
"There were individuals who visited the flat who were on the periphery of organisations but in Rathcoole it's very difficult not to have that."
Local community worker Phil Hamilton said there was "a lot of anger" following the inquest report and he believed the remarks should be clarified by the former officer or the PSNI.
"The feeling is demonisation," he said. "People are absolutely astounded by this. They are bewildered."
Mr Hamilton acknowledged the presence of some former paramilitaries in the estate but said knowing one did not mean supporting paramilitary activity.
"His figures do not add up," said Mr Hamilton. "I have had a look at the latest census. In the 2011 census there were 7,408 people living in Rathcoole."
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said Rathcoole was a "fantastic place".
"My office has received a large volume of calls from Rathcoole residents who are rightly angry at the way in which their area has been misrepresented," he said. "Like many other communities, Rathcoole suffered during the Troubles, but just like anywhere else the vast majority of residents were not directly involved and simply wished to get on with their lives.
"Huge efforts have been put in however to continually improve the area, and deal with problems, many of which are common across working-class communities. "
UUP councillor John Scott said he was "shocked and angered" by the "slur".
He said the murder of Mr McColgan had been greeted with "shock and disgust" by the vast majority of residents who were "good and decent".