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Issue of collusion raises ugly head again

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

Stoneyford is neither a hamlet nor a village. It lies somewhere in between with a population of just more than 300.

Stoneyford fits all the descriptions found in a tourist brochure, picturesque, sleepy, quaint.

It has become a desirable location for young nationalists starting out in life.

It lies approximately 10 miles from Belfast city centre and a few from the shores of Lough Neagh.

However, Stoneyford's political location is millimetres away from the politics at the heart of the peace process and in particular the future of policing.

There are no shops in Stoneyford but there is an Orange Hall.

The hall was the location of a huge find of British Army intelligence files a number of years ago. Hundreds of republican's names were on the files.

Crumlin is a village, close to Stoneyford. There in 1998 a young Catholic student, Ciaran Heffron, was shot dead by loyalists.

The self-proclaimed leader of the Orange Volunteers lives in Stoneyford.

He was arrested and questioned over the find in the Orange Hall and the murder but later released.

Stoneyford is a shrine to the union flag. The kerbs and lamp posts are painted in its colours.

At its entrance the union flag flies all year round.

Such loyalty requires high maintenance. This is provided by Stoneyford's local Orange Volunteers, OV's as they like to call themselves.

They can be seen with their 'leader' loitering outside the Orange Hall, swaggering about the main street keeping watch.

But keeping watch for what? Noone knows but them.

Perhaps they are looking for furniture vans arriving with the latest nationalist family to occupy one of the recently built homes.

Or perhaps they are monitoring the removal vans heading back to Belfast or elsewhere as another Catholic family is intimidated.

Stoneyford is at the centre of a low-key campaign orchestrated by resentful loyalists.

The name of the leader of the OVs is on the lips of every Catholic for miles around.

His activities and the plight of Catholics across Lagan Valley are well known to several British secretaries of state and to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Lisburn Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler has made sure of that.

He has frequently provided reports on sectarian attacks in the area.

The only pub in the main street owned by a Catholic was attacked 80 times, as was the publican's home.

Both now lie in ruins.

The family forced out.

The PSNI's response was pathetic. The family believe the OV 'leader' is responsible.

The PSNI told the family they couldn't 'touch him'.

A Catholic father who objected to a march past his front door by Orange Volunteers, which was observed by the PSNI, was paid a night time visit by the disgruntled 'leader'.

Two weeks later the PSNI called to tell him his life was in danger. He told them about the 'leader's' visit. They said they could do nothing.

He left with his family.

A partially finished housing estate had its lamp posts painted red, white and blue by the OVs. The Catholic residents repainted them.

A resident was selected arbitrarily by the OVs for special attention. His home and car had their windows smashed. He was told by the PSNI they couldn't protect him.

He fled with his family.

Other homes have been attacked. Some people have left but most Catholics aren't for budging.

A group of teenage boys and girls wearing GAA tops were verbally and physically abused by the 'leader'.

Their parents complained to the PSNI and one officer told a parent the 'leader' was being 'protected' and couldn't be touched.

Stoneyford's Catholics believe the PSNI's Special Branch is protecting the 'leader'.

They have good cause.

Councillor Butler has just received a letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

The letter quotes the PSNI responding to queries from the Irish government saying they had "no cause for concern" about sectarian attacks in Stoneyford nor about an "individual" behind such attacks.

This is confirmed protection at the highest level.

The kind of protection that Brian Nelson had, that the killers of Pat Finucane have.

Were we not promised a new beginning to policing with collusion a thing of the past?

June 20, 2005
________________

This article appeared first in the June 16, 2005 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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