Belfast Telegraph

Victims draw comfort from generosity of their nationalist neighbours

By Adrian Rutherford

After the depressing images from Belfast which have flashed around the world in recent days, Northern Ireland has shown another side of community relations.

On Friday night a nationalist mob went on the rampage through a Protestant enclave in west Belfast. Cars were attacked, a house window was smashed.

On the face of it, another hate-filled sectarian attack is little cause for optimism.

But from the adversity of the residents of Ringford Park a glimmer of hope has emerged.

The families whose peace was shattered so violently at the weekend have drawn comfort from the basic kindness and generosity shown by their nationalist neighbours.

One woman recalled how a Catholic man had pleaded with the mob to leave them in peace.

"One of the fellas actually came up and apologised," said Brenda McCrum, a Protestant who has lived in the area for 22 years.

"He tried to hold the crowd back but he wasn't able to do it on his own.

"He said he was sorry for what happened."

The terrifying attack on the families who live in this small estate, just off the Stewartstown Road, took place about 10pm.

Linda Bradshaw, who has lived there 42 years, had two car windows broken.

She said the violence was reminiscent of the Troubles.

"It was like being back in the 1970s – it was frightening," she said.

"I've seen rioting here in the past but I've never been as scared as I was on Friday night.

"They came from everywhere, they were actually in the middle of the estate damaging cars – young girls and boys.

"The girls had their rucksacks filled with bricks, the boys had hurley bats and that's what did the damage to the cars.

"They were vicious, just like animals – out to do damage to this community."

Martin McGuinness took to Twitter to express his solidarity with the residents.

"The sectarian attacks in the Suffolk area were a disgrace. Information on the bigots responsible should be passed to police," Mr McGuinness wrote.

Condemnation also came from Matt Garrett, a Sinn Fein councillor in west Belfast.

He said it was "disgraceful" and "sectarian".

Such comments are to be expected. There can be no response other than condemnation of violent and criminal behaviour. What is more heartening has been the reaction from the grassroots nationalist community.

As missiles were hurled and Protestant houses came under attack, residents described how Catholic neighbours came to their aid.

Ruth Parkinson, who has lived in the Suffolk area for half-a-century, said there have been practical offers of help.

"People have offered us the lend of their cars," she said. "The response has been very heartening.

"It's good to know there are people out there who will support you.

"It isn't all hatred and not everyone is bitter."

One Catholic man who tried to stop the mob was reluctant to speak publicly about his efforts.

His rationale was that it didn't matter, these people were his neighbours, he knows them and he was doing nothing unusual. "If someone's in trouble then you help them," he said.

"It is just being a good citizen and a good neighbour."

Yesterday the families targeted in the rampage attended a meeting with police at Woodbourne PSNI station.

They were accompanied by nationalist politicians including Mr Garrett and SDLP councillor Tim Attwood.

Gerry McConville, a west Belfast community worker, also lent his support.

At a brief Press conference after the meeting, they stood shoulder to shoulder with those targeted on Friday night. As they left, there were handshakes and words of support.

"We want to lend our support to the people of Suffolk estate," Mr Garrett said afterwards.

"This attack was wrong, it shouldn't have happened and they whole-heartedly have our support."

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