Belfast Telegraph

UVF intimidation of Catholics disgusting and unionists’ response almost as bad

By Suzanne Breen

Ffour Catholic families forced to flee their homes in Belfast after a threat is made. It’s not 1977, 1987, 1997, or even 2007.

No this is 2017, almost a quarter of a century after the first paramilitary ceasefires and nearly two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement.

The social housing project in Cantrell Close is part of Stormont’s £13million Together Building a United Community (TBUC) programme.

We’re very good at this type of thing in Northern Ireland. Throwing money at a project and coming up with grandiose titles so it looks like we’re finally moving ahead.

The TBUC authors noted that 73pc of Protestants live in overwhelmingly Protestant areas, and two-thirds of Catholics live in predominantly Catholic areas.

The 116-page document says the way forward lies in ending segregation. “We are committed to creating a new, united, reconciled and shared society,” it pledges.

So when UVF flags were erected in the housing project where Catholics and Protestants were meant to be living the post-sectarian dream what did the statutory agencies do? Well, nothing.

This wasn’t an undercover of darkness operation. The flags were put up in broad daylight in June. Almost four months later and long after the marching season has ended, they’re still there.

People should be free to fly whatever flag they want from their own home. Paying the rent or mortgage brings that right. But public spaces should be neutral and especially ones in a religiously mixed housing development.

Yet emblems honouring those who cut the throats of Catholics, massacred men watching a football match on TV, and blew up pubs purely because of their customers’ religion, were permitted on street lampposts in the “new, united, reconciled and shared society”.

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Emma Little Pengelly

The response of DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly above) that residents “didn’t want a public fuss” made and that it was “a complex picture” was woefully inadequate.

It undermines the efforts the South Belfast MP has made in building bridges by attending nationalist events and tweeting congratulations to Carryduff GAA.

Loyalists argued that the flags represented the 1912 UVF, not the more contemporary one. Let’s get real. If flags emblazoned ‘IRA’ were erected in a mixed housing development would anybody say, ‘Ach sure they only mean the one formed 100 years ago’?

Last Tuesday, the PSNI rapped the doors of Catholic families in Cantrell Close and informed them they were in danger. There is confusion around the threats. The UVF was blamed but the paramilitary group says it wasn’t responsible.

Regardless of who was involved, it is outrageous that families, some of whom have very young children, had to flee their homes in such circumstances. 

It is significant that people were too frightened to be interviewed on camera, including Protestant residents who supported their Catholic neighbours.

By handling this badly, unionists have handed their opponents another propaganda victory.

Had threats been made against Protestants living in a republican area, Sinn Fein would have been highly visible and vocal on the ground in its response.

 The 65-word statement of condemnation on the threat which appeared on the DUP website didn’t cut the mustard.

Earlier in the week, the party had issued a substantially longer statement on a minor incident involving the verbal abuse of its representatives at a public meeting on health cuts in Derry. 

Politicians on both sides of the divide need to call out sectarianism long and loud wherever it occurs – and no matter how many votes it might cost them.

 

SHAMEFUL: Cantrell Close in east Belfast, a supposedly mixed social housing development where UVF flags fly (inset) and where Catholics have come under threat

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