Lorcan Grew was only hours in the world when it started. "I was out having a
few drinks to celebrate his birth when loyalists hurled paint bombs through
the window. Our furniture was destroyed," says his father Gareth.
"I rang the hospital to tell them not to let my wife watch TV or read any
papers. It's not the kind of news to hear just after giving birth."
When Catherine Grew left hospital, the family discussed leaving their north
Belfast home, but decided to stay. "We thought it couldn't get worse," says
Gareth, a supermarket manager.
Even by Northern Ireland standards, the pictures of 13 week-old Lorcan,
splattered in orange paint, are horrendous. His leg was cut by glass.
Three Catholic homes were targeted by the loyalist gang, who wore combat
gear and scarves, in the religiously mixed Cliftondene Crescent on Wednesday
"My wife heard a bang and went outside. They were standing at the bottom of
the front garden. Our two-year-old son Fionn was playing there with his
friend Danielle. The loyalists had smashed the window.
"My wife begged them not to do anything else. They threw a petrol bomb over
the heads of the children. It missed my wife by three inches. The door-step
went on fire."
A paint bomb, thrown into the house, covered Lorcan in his pram. Gareth
fights back tears as he packs his family's belongings. "My eldest son, who
is six, has told me to remember to bring all his toys," he says.
It's been a dreadful week in the greater Ardoyne area, with both Catholic
and Protestant homes targeted. Unfortunately, it's not a one-off. A report
just published shows that, 11 years after the ceasefires and seven years
after the Belfast Agreement, sectarian violence has substantially increased
across the North, with far more attacks on churches, GAA clubs and Orange
halls than pre-1994.
More people are being intimidated from their homes. "It was assumed all
this would stop with the peace process," says Dr Neil Jarman, the report's
author. "It hasn't, yet it gets very little attention. The response would be
completely different anywhere else in the UK.
"When there were racial disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in
2001, major investigations were ordered immediately. There was a Home Office
report and a ministerial response within six months.
"After the first serious trouble in North Belfast in 1996, we waited five
years for a report and there still hasn't been an adequate official
response. There is shock and horror when 500 people riot in Bradford. The
same number on Belfast streets last weekend hardly caused a ripple."
While some individual district command units did collect figures for
sectarian attacks, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) only began
doing so on a province-wide basis last September.
Jarman, who is director of the Institute for Conflict Research, says the
Northern Ireland Office is only now developing a system for recording and
analysing hate crime. Even when the Assembly sat, it addressed sectarianism
only in relation to football, he says.
He believes sectarianism remains rampant because little symbolically unites
the community: "There isn't one football team, one flag, or one head of
state to rally behind. Those things actually divide people here bitterly."
In his home in the mainly Protestant Hesketh Road, John Mussen, 82, surveys
the damage from a paint bomb. His sofa, china cabinet, and carpet, are
destroyed. The war veteran, who has cancer, was in bed when neighbours saw
men in Celtic shirts arrive.
"I don't know why they picked on us, I'm not in any group, not even an old
people's one," he says. "The wife says we're too old to move. I hope it
doesn't happen next time Celtic and Rangers play. No football match is worth
Over on Ardoyne Road, Collette Cassidy and Catherine Williams are also
cleaning up after paint bombs. "There's rarely a night something isn't
thrown at our homes, whether it's stones, bottles, ball-bearings or worse,"
says Catherine, a mother of six.
"I'd only moved in two days when loyalists smashed the windows. I've
drop-bars but every night I put the child's pram and step ladders across the
door as well."
Collette, a mother of eight, had moved in a fortnight when the attacks
started: "They threw acid bombs on Easter Sunday morning, shouting 'get out
you Fenian bastards'."
Catherine claims the police are useless: "They send only one Land Rover. It
sits there at night and the police chat away to the loyalists. They let them
come down and threaten us. Our lives are spent watching the door. It's
impossible to even cook in peace. You put on the dinner, something happens,
and it's ruined. The local Chinese does great business."
DUP Assembly member Diane Dodds condemns all sectarian attacks: "Paint
bombing Protestant pensioners, or Catholic families, isn't striking a blow
for Ireland or for God and Ulster.
"But it annoys me when middle-class people look at north Belfast, throw up
their hands and say 'oh it's them again'. This isn't north Down 40% of
the killings in Belfast took place in a two-mile radius in this area.
"People have been brutalised. There's an awful lot of pain ingrained.
Trevor Kell, a taxi driver doing a day's work, was shot dead by republicans
in 2000 because he was a Protestant. His family is still suffering."
Just a few streets away from the recently attacked Catholic homes, a pink
flower is tied to a lamp-post where loyalists shot dead Catholic labourer,
Brian Service, in 1998. Deerpark is a beautiful, tree-lined street, but
dozens of houses are boarded up or for sale because it's so dangerous.
Teach na Failte, the INLA prisoners' centre in Ardoyne, sports posters of
Che Guevara and James Connolly. Paul Little of the Irish Republican
Socialist Party, the INLA's political wing, claims sectarian attacks are
unsurprising because the Northern state was "founded on sectarianism".
He says "young anti-social elements", not republican paramilitaries, are
attacking local Protestants, but the UDA is orchestrating attacks on
nationalists. "If Protestants are under siege, it's from natural forces.
Those able to move out have done so. The Catholic population is expanding
but it's no conspiracy."
Some nationalists allege the UDA is actually attacking Protestant homes
"just like Johnny Adair did a few years ago to stir up trouble". Loyalists
firmly contest this. "The UDA isn't attacking any homes. Nationalists are in
denial of their own bigotry," says one figure. "They want to ethnically
cleanse this area." Sinn Féin has condemned all sectarian attacks.
University of Ulster lecturer, Dr Pete Shirlow, has conducted several
studies into sectarianism. In one project, his team interviewed 4,800 people
from 12 Belfast estates.
"Divisions are growing in working-class Belfast," he says. "People aren't
ashamed to admit they're sectarian. It's non-sectarian people who worry
about speaking out."
Shirlow found the peace process generation those in their teens and 20s
with least memory of the war were most sectarian. Pensioners with direct
experience of the conflict and relationships with the other community
pre-1969 were the least bigoted.
"There is less integration now, especially among young Catholics and
Protestants, than a decade ago 68% of 18-25 year olds have never had a
meaningful conversation with anyone from the other community," he says.
Some children, who went on cross-community schemes, then found it easier to
recognise and target each other in riots. The study also found 58% of people
unwilling to use shops, leisure or medical facilities located across the
"Some men who were sick sent their wives to the doctor to report their
symptoms rather than enter the other area themselves," says Shirlow.
"Protestants who shopped in Curley's (in west Belfast) because it was cheap
put their groceries into Tesco bags so they wouldn't be hassled on returning
home. One Catholic fell out with a neighbour for shopping on the Shankill."
Shirlow is strongly pro-peace process but says growing divisions in many
areas must be acknowledged. The Northern conflict, once ideological, is now
more blatantly sectarian, he argues: "The border is off the agenda so
people focus more on culture and identity.
"It's about flags, Orange marches, football matches, Irish street signs and
symbolic things. Most violence in nationalist areas was previously directed
at British soldiers and police. Now, it appears to be more sectarian."
Everything in north Belfast is disputed. At Ardoyne shops, a huge mural
announces: "Arkansas Ardoyne, it's black and white. Everyone has the right
to live free from sectarian harassment." UFF is scrawled over the bottom of