Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland grandmother so frightened she sleeps with a hammer under pillow after sectarian attacks

By Leona O'Neill

The area around Londonderry's only interface has become a battleground, with residents living in fear for their lives following six nights of sectarian attacks over the last two weeks.

A 30ft wall and fence separates the Fountain estate - the last Protestant enclave on the city's west bank - from its predominantly Catholic neighbours in Bishop and Bennett Streets.

In recent nights youths have gathered in the nearby Bogside, built barricades across the street and set them on fire, then launched petrol bomb and bottle attacks on homes in the Fountain.

Residents who live facing the security wall in the Fountain were unable to sit outside their homes and enjoy the recent good weather due to missiles - bricks, bottles, petrol bombs, golf balls and marbles - being hurled at them.

The green area, normally teeming with young children playing, is currently out of bounds. Many say they are afraid to sleep in their beds at night in case a petrol bomb sets their house ablaze and there have been pleas put out over social media for people to bring fire extinguishers to the area.

Grandmother Grace Currie (58) lives facing the Bennett Street interface.

She says she is so terrified that those hurling missiles over the wall will break into the area and attack residents that she has had to resort to extreme measures.

"I am living in fear. I sleep with a hammer beneath my pillow, that's how scared I am. Because you are never sure what these boys are capable of," she said.

"They don't seem to be scared of anybody - police, Sinn Fein, IRA, no one. No one has any control over them, they are a law unto themselves.

"I am living on edge all the time. It could happen during the day, not just at night. They throw over golf balls, marbles, the tar from the road, roof slates, CDs, just whatever comes to hand.

"They would shoot the marbles with a slingshot. That could kill somebody.

"I've lived here 17 years and I'm not moving. I'd rather burn my house to the ground before giving it over to them."

On the other side of the peace wall sits Alexander House, sheltered accommodation for elderly, vulnerable and disabled people, some needing 24-hour medical care. The home acts as a buffer between the loyalist Fountain and republican Bogside and has borne the brunt of the nightly attacks.

Staff at the care home have evacuation procedures in place should they need to leave in the night, with buses on standby and other homes available to take residents in.

Some residents have already packed overnight bags and are ready to move at a moment's notice. During weekend disturbances, police officers positioned themselves outside the home with fire extinguishers.

Susanna Kelly (73), whose window faces down into the Bogside, says that during rioting on Sunday night she witnessed the violence at first-hand.

"I was sitting reading my book on Sunday and smelled smoke, so I got up on my frame to close the window," she said.

"Out the window, a police vehicle was on fire and a policeman was trying to put it out. I thought it was going to explode. It was very frightening.

"For the rest of the evening until 3am it was just rocks, bricks and bottles being fired against the vehicles.

"You just want a quiet life when you are in sheltered accommodation. You don't want bricks flying past your window and Land Rovers blowing up.

"It is really senseless what they are doing. What harm are we doing to them that they would do this to us?"

Independent councillor Darren O'Reilly, a youth worker in the city, says that statutory and community agencies need to be "bringing the young people to the table" to discover the reasoning behind their anti-social behaviour.

"There is so much negative stuff happening in this town at the moment," he said.

"Young people are putting themselves at risk and other people within their communities at risk. Good work is being carried out in the schools and in the communities, but there is a sizeable amount of young people who are disengaged with everything.

"We have to look at this as a community and redevelop a strategy to engage with these young people. We need to make them feel like they are part of a community and not against it. How do we that? That's the age-old question. But it needs to be done.

"We need to be looking at getting these young people around the table and we need to listen to them. Obviously, if there is a crime committed, there needs to be a follow-up on that, but there is a lot of stuff going on where young people don't necessarily know the dangers of their actions.

"We need to be looking at what the triggers are for these young people. What is so awful that in their own life and self that they feel the need to do that to others? We need to look at how we can help and support the vulnerable young people who are involved in this terrible behaviour."

Belfast Telegraph

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