'On the Edge' edited by Neil Jarman (1996)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
Ballysillan and Ligoniel are situated on the north-west margins of Belfast, and they were, to some degree, marginal to the main events of last Summer. Nevertheless the experiences of people in these areas, particularly during Drumcree week, has left deep impressions on both communities, if in very different ways. In Ballysillan, the community itself was not threatened to any degree but people were concerned about the position of people in the small and isolated neighbouring Protestant communities in Torrens and Westland. In Ligoniel their geographical marginality led to a unique and worrying experience, for a period in early July they were physically isolated by barricades erected by others, and without means of communication to the outside world.
In spite of the tension and conflict that was experienced last summer there was acknowledgement of the common roots of the two communities.
Ligoniel/Ballysillan is classed as sort of the one area - always was - because a lot of the people who live in Ballysillan actually came from Ligoniel - they came in the 70s. Trouble started in Ligoniel and most of the Protestants moved out and moved down to here but they still have old friends. There is a lot of groups have had good contact across the divide, there is a lot of cross-community work going on (Ballysillan/Ardoyne Community Group).
Nevertheless, at present there is also a certain degree of fear and mistrust. and a recognition of the reality of the interface between the two communities.
Their main building is just a hundred yards across the invisible peace line. The invisible boundary They have a big project up there in Ligoniel and if you go up the road, about two hundred yards there is St Marks. It is sort of the boundary line. St Marks is one of the oldest - 150 years old - Church of Ireland churches, just sits on the peace line and just 100 yards above that is their main Community Centre (Ballysillan/Ardoyne).
According to the submission from Ligoniel the first of the disturbances in North Belfast, at the time of the Tour of the North parade did not really impact on the area.
The Tour of the North did not affect us, it was another country as far as we were concerned (Ligoniel Group).
However among Protestants in Ballysillan there were strong feelings that the declaration by nationalists that the lower Cliftonville Road and Upper Duncairn Gardens area was a ‘nationalist area’ was not a legitimate claim.
What really annoyed us was the fact that they called the lower part of the Cliftonville Road a nationalist area. It’s no nationalist area - how could you turn around a main Protestant church followed by one of the biggest Protestant schools in the Cliftonville Road. You have the Salvation Army Home. On this side you had a coal yard, the old Jaffa School - donated by the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Belfast - most of the houses have been turned into office blocks. There are no nationalists lives on that piece of the Cliftonville Road, from the Antrim Road to Cliftonpark Avenue where the parade was going to come up (Ballysillan resident).
Road Blocks and Arson Attacks
Ballysillan Orangemen were among those who marched on the Tour of the North, and many of them shared the concerns of the wider Orange community. There was not any trouble in the Ballysillan area after the parade, but concerns about the threats to the rights of Protestants to parade were running high. These concerns erupted into activity during Drumcree week. The result was the blockage of a large number of local roads.
The week of the Drumcree crisis, the roads at nights and all started to get blocked. They were blocked at the lights at the Oldpark, they were blocked going over the hill towards Ballysillan, towards the Model. They were blocked at the Model School. They were blocked at Westland - sort of to close main Protestant areas.
It was claimed that the road blocks were not an organised protest but more of a spontaneous response in support of Drumcree. But it was also necessary to exert some control from the wider community to ensure restraint.
It started off with young fellows and then more elderly people came out. Some came out to watch. But that was the main purpose. There was little fires lit, but what they did was burn rubbish. They weren’t allowed under any circumstances to do damage. When the trouble started, in Ballysillan here they decided to follow suit and block all the roads. The paramilitaries came out and told them they wanted no damage. That was the one thing they said Look, we’ll keep an eye on things, we want no damage’ (Ballysillan resident).
In spite of the assertion that the road blocks were peaceful and disciplined it was acknowledged that some cars were burnt during this period. However, how the cars came to end up burning in the middle of the road is another matter.
I think on the Cavehill Road there was one or two burnt, but I think what happened was joy riders from the nationalist side came up and were doing wheelies, almost close to the sort of main barricades, to see how close they could get. One frllow ended up in the middle of the fire, had to leave the car. This is what was happening on the Cavehill Road site - they were actually doing wheelies in stolen cars. This wasn't from the loyalist side. But it just shows you.
Although it was denied that the loyalists were responsible for all of the trouble they were not entirely without blame. At Westland, one fellow ended up with his car stolen and on one of the small fires. He left it, he had to.
There were also a number of arson attacks in the Ballysillan area through the week. These were either played down or they were blamed on nationalists who were trying to increase tensions.
What we couldn't understand is why the nationalists burnt the factories up in Ballysillan Industrial Estate. We couldn’t understand why Williamson’s, a big four-storey factory, went up. The thing about it seems to be that they were trying to aggravate trouble.
The Girls Model School was burnt. I think there was a few petrol bombs, but a few years ago it was completely gutted. This year the caretaker happened to just come in and see them and was able to get it put out in time. I think there was just a couple of class rooms or something scorched. It was targeted by the nationalist side, just the same as somebody targeted this Catholic school - the Lady of Mercy (Ballysillan resident).
The Lady of Mercy School had been built about thirty years ago when the area was more mixed, but now most of the children come in from outside, from Ligoniel and Ardoyne. As a Catholic school in the midst of Protestant Ballysillan it was something of an easy target.
It has been bombed a number of times, it has been vandalised. The people who do it think: ‘If we can’t get at them well we will destroy something belonging to them. There is no reason in it but you can see why it keeps getting blattered. Simply because it is a Catholic school and our schools get blattered because they happen to be a Protestant school close to a Catholic area (Ballysillan resident).
While there was some considerable damage to property, and the submissions probably understate the amount of such attacks, there was generally a feeling that things could have been a lot worse if it had been for the restraints imposed from within the Protestant community. The need to retain some degree of communal control was a constant factor because throughout the week there was often considerable uncertainty as to the scale and the nature of events elsewhere in Belfast. Rumour and gossip often appear to have driven action and because the Ballysillan community was not under threat itself, they were often called on to assist other areas.
We didn’t know from up here really what was happening. Although I’ll tell you the truth, word came up that men had to be sent to the Westland because there wasn’t enough men to man the barricades, things were getting very hot and heavy. People asked for help from here to go up to Torrens because the crowds came over from the Bone, as we call it (Ballysillan resident).
Both Torrens and Westland are small loyalist areas near to Ballysillan. Torrens received considerable publicity early in the week when a number of Catholics moved out of the estate. Because of its proximity to the Ardoyne, events in that area were watched carefully by people in Ballysillan.
We know that xxx brought two hundred people from Ardoyne to help - actually brought two hundred hard-liners from Ardoyne to agitate the trouble. He brought people up to Torrens to try and intimidate the last few Protestants that lives in Torrens up there around the Police Station. And as the proof will show in this, that the people who actually burnt them out - some Catholics were burnt out of that area - they have now or are being charged with the fire and they were all nationalists. No Catholic’s were burnt out (Ballysillan resident).
People in Ardoyne were in their turn aware that Protestants from other areas were Watching events in Torrens.
Torrens is a very small community, there is not an awful lot of Protestants living in it, but whenever anything is happening Westland Road, Silverstream, Tyndale, Ballysillan would come down. They would move in and they would stay there for maybe three or four days at a time, which gives them backing. They sent down word that if the nationalist people tried to go into Torrens, that the whole of Ballysillan and the surrounding areas was behind them 100% (Ardoyne resident).
Events in the Westland estate, on the other hand, received little public attention at the time. However we have already noted that there were road blocks and fires at the junction of Cavehill Road and there appears to have been the potential for an escalation of the trouble here. The intervention of local activists helped to keep things calm and under control.
1 went to the office to see these women, there was three or four women and one of them was very, very hyper - her nerves was completely gone - and she said that a bus load of nationalists had come into Westland the night before with hurly bats and baseball bats and broke a few windows and then got into the van and drove back out again (Unionist politician).
This man offered to talk with both the police and with local people, to try to ensure that the police were aware of the problem, and that the presence of local men on the streets did not provoke any more serious clashes.
I went and spoke to a group of residents in Westland and some of the paramilitary people were there. I said to them Look, the police will keep an eye on things. What I would prefer to happen is that people stay away from the corners and they stay in the middle of the estate and not to interfere either with the police or with anybody who comes. Obviously you are quite entitled to protect your property but don't go down to the corners to antagonise people, don't put barricades out and don't protest on the Cavehill Road or the Oldpark Road’. They agreed to that, and there was no attacks from nationalists.
The submissions from Ballysillan and from the PUP both emphasise the amount of work that was done behind the scenes to control the violence and to defuse the anger that was felt, and often expressed, in Protestant areas. In some places this was more successful than others but people also pointed out that things could probably have been worse but for this steady round of meetings and discussions.
A Random Victim
These rounds of meetings and dialogue were not enough to save some individuals in the area from being targeted. A young woman, who had only recently moved into a new house in the Oldpark area, was one victim of the violence.
I went to visit my mother and I got a phone call about 1130pm to tell me that the Fire Brigade were outside my door. When I eventually got up to the house it had been attacked - two petrol bombs - one had gone through the back window, the second luckily had fallen far off the house. But the house was very badly damaged, downstairs the ground floor was completely gutted and everything in it destroyed, so I lost all of my new stuff.
She was both confused and surprised that she had become a target of violence.
I don’t understand how anyone was able to know my religion. I was advised by the police that it was a sectarian attack and I don’t really know how anyone knew me because I had only been there for three weeks. What scares me is that someone in the street identified me and pointed me out to maybe someone from outside the area.
The police advised her that they would probably be unable to find out who carried out the attack, but she wondered how seriously such attacks were pursued especially after one comment from a local policeman.
The police said to me at the time that really I was a single girl living on my own and I had been watched and was what they termed an easy target. I think a policeman actually said to me ‘At the end of the day love what are you going to do about it?’ and I felt like saying 'Actually I thought you might do something about it’.
On the other hand she was pleasantly surprised by the response she got from the Housing Executive when she was having problems trying to get her house boarded up and secured.
As a last resort even though I am private, I contacted the Housing Executive to see if I could pay them to come out and board up my windows for me. They very kindly came out and did it for me, free (Oldpark resident).
Six months later this young woman had still not been able to move back into her home.
Barricades at Ligoniel
For residents of Ligoniel the events of Drumcree week were deeply alarming. Ligoniel is separated from the rest of the city on the south and east by the Protestant residential areas of Ballysillan and Glencairn, and on the north and west by the hills, as a result of this the area is very easy to isolate. On Tuesday 9 July, all roads into Ligoniel were blocked and the area was cut off from the rest of the city. A local resident describes the flow of events.
The Protestants at the turn of the road decided to protest and marched around blocking roads. In this area there are only two roads in and out, they hijacked a bus which they blocked the road at the park gates, it blocked the area in. Within an hour men came down in a van from the top-end of the road with a chain-saw and cut down the telegraph poles. A few people from the area went up in a car and were chased. The police stepped in, took the people who had gone to look, their names and checked them. In the meantime the ones cutting down the telegraph had got away.
The police did offer some assistance to remove barriers but it was felt that they should have done more to keep the roads open. They seemed to be trying to ensure that the violence did not escalate rather than clear the roads. This appeared to have been a response to the scale of the disturbances across the city and the resulting shortage of police officers.
The police and local residents pulled the telegraph poles off the road, the bus was still blocking the other end and protesters sitting inside the bus with Drumcree posters. The police arrived with two unmarked cars and one small dog handler van with two dogs. Roughly eight police men and a crowd of two hundred Protestants sitting at the park gates. A lot of local people were incensed and went down the road and the police turned their vehicles around to point towards local people, when asked what was going to be done the police said they were too thinly stretched, because of Drumcree, so they sat there and were not moved.
As people congregated on the streets local activists tried to maintain some sense of calm and restraint, hoping to stop things getting even worse.
This went on but crowds started to gather; myself and a few others tried not to let crowds down the road - there were kids and people with drink in them - and generally keep people calm. As time wore on the manhole at the bottom of the road was pulled up and they burnt the telephone wires. Burning the telephone wires cut off every telephone in the area, the only telephone was a payphone in the centre, but the centre closes at 11pm so we had no emergency phones (Ligoniel resident).
People in Ardoyne understood that the closing of Ligoniel was in part also a warning to them.
Now they actually closed off Ligoniel, they burnt the telephones, the telephone cables. They tried to put the fear into people from the Ardoyne to turn round and say 'Look don’t go in here, if we go into Torrens they will go into Ligoniel and other places’ (Ardoyne resident).
A local nationalist politician described how difficult it was for him to gain access to Ligoniel at this time.
I had to drive right round the airport, coming in by Crumlin Road to turn into Ligoniel. I was followed in - when you came along the Crumlin Road from the airport, if you turn right into the Ligoniel Road you are only going one place, which is down in the Ligoniel area. There were two cars sitting there, quite literally - I don’t exaggerate it - I did 80 or 90mph driving to Ligoniel. But I had to go right round because there were loyalist road blocks still about and regardless of who you are, I didn't fancy being stopped by loyalists, by UVF road blocks in the middle of the country at 10.30 at night.
His experiences confirmed that Ligoniel was almost completely cut off during this period. He also felt that the main aim of the police at this time was to prevent direct confrontations between members of the two communities rather than keep roads open.
Ligoniel was completely cut off. The police offered no assistance whatsoever, according to eye witnesses the bus was hijacked and burnt at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road, and there were two police Land Rovers sitting there when it was done. They lifted a manhole and poured petrol down it - the British Telecom manhole - which knocked the telephone out. Certain telephone lines were reconnected but I think for two, nearly three days the Ligoniel estate had no telephones.
I wasn’t there for all of it, but loyalists came across the fields from Glencairn direction - I think the police actually did stop them there - but they stopped them because local people were literally going to arm themselves and go into the fields to protect the Ligoniel area.
People were very frightened because they were surrounded. They were very angry, the police didn’t facilitate it but they didn't exactly intervene. Probably the loyalist community can say the same. There was a paranoia and I think a legitimate paranoia developing at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road (Nationalist politician).
On reflection, people in Ligoniel feel that the police should have intervened at an early stage to stop the protests beginning. They were also concerned and angry that the physical barricades were allowed to remain in place for a number of days.
To us the police could have stopped it, they marched at the bottom of the roads for hours and the police could have stopped it. They should have been stopped, it was an illegal march Why should we suffer because the police won ‘t break up a march at the bottom of the rocid? The road should never been allowed to close.
They showed no intention of moving the barricades, the same night someone decided to burn part of the mill. The fire brigade and police were phoned with a mobile, they never arrived. They came up and sat at the bottom and another jeep at the top, and they never once tried to move the obstacles they sat there for two or three days.
We asked the police would they move it they said no they did not have thc man power; the bus sat fur two days (Ligoniel resident).
The apparent reluctance of the police to act against the loyalist crowd contrasted with the way they responded to the later confrontations with the nationalist community. As stories of assaults on Catholics in other areas spread and after the ending of the stand-off at Drumcree, a full-scale riot broke out in Ligoniel.
When word of Catholics being burnt out in Torrens spread, the rioting started, rioting in this area has never been bad, at most fifty petrol bombs thrown in a week would be considered a major riot, we usually don't have it here. The police responded with baton rounds and started moving their way up the road, cars and trailers were hijacked, this went on for about three hours.
All hell broke out in other nationalists areas, it spread to here. Mainly youth decided they would start to hijack and burn up here. Then the police arrived and started coming up but this time they did not sit back like the first time, their first reaction was to fire plastic baton rounds, at which point the riots developed. At this point there was a meeting where two hundred local men met at the shops and decided they would patrol the area, because with no phones, the road blocked they felt unsafe, it paled off after a couple of days (Ligoniel resident).
In spite of these events, and widely held perceptions that the police acted differently and unequally in their response to disturbances in the Ballysillan and Ligoniel, at least one community activist in the Catholic area felt that relations with the police had begun to improve again.
The police in this area have always been involved, any groups running in the area have always tried to work with the police, if we need them we have no qualms about phoning and asking the police to come and give talks or information, or traffic on the street. Within the local groups, before there was no bad feeling towards the people, at the moment it has settled down again but at that particular time feeling against them did run very high.
But he also felt that the police would still have to confront the very real concerns that remained within the community over the way they responded to the events last summer.
This has not been addressed by the police, the) have never come up and tried to explain and sought any meetings with residents groups to try and talk about it. I personally have never been given a name of a community police man fur the area to contact over these kind of issues (Ligoniel resident).
The first quotation that we used in this section described a sense of the common bonds between the communities of Ballysillan and Ligoniel. While these were obviously not broad enough or strong enough to prevent violence from breaking out it has been suggested that they did perhaps provide some degree of restraint. It was not clear however whether these links were now severed or just severely strained. The Ballysillan submission expressed diverging views on this.
The links between Ballysillan and Ligoniel stood for a while, they are starting to build again, there are things going on at the moment but at that particular time everything just stopped.
I think there is cross-community work, they help pensioners, changeovers, they have things like that. They have groups going up there and if we need any information there are seminars, and we would have maybe meetings with them, this is the way it worked before. The trouble is the Protestants are quite happy to go into Catholic areas on projects but they don't seem to reciprocate. Every time we would maybe arrange something they seem to be a bit more frightened. They talk about trust, they seem to be a bit more frightened of crossing the line to us (Ballysillan/Ardoyne Community Group).
This tension, mistrust and sense of divisions was confirmed by the submission from Ligoniel.
In the end it did cause a bit of rift in the area, especially between here and Ballysillan. lt can be healed because we have a working relationship but as long as we have the incidents occurring where roads are blocked and phones cut off and police stay back and do nothing, it is going to re-occur; especially with such a young population. Over half the people in this area are under fifteen, we could go either way, either normally or bitter and get caught up, we fight hard to avoid this, because it is a good tolerant area (Ligoniel resident).
The submissions from Ballysillan and Ligoniel show how two neighbouring residential areas can have contrasting concerns about security and justice. The issue of territory was central to both groups, both have a sense of the constant presence of the other’ community. Areas must be owned by one side or another, and the boundaries must be known and recognised. The notion of a common civic space is almost absent. Every march, whether successful or blocked, is seen to mark the boundary of ‘our country’. The result is that marches turn into declarations of claims to political control of territory.
In Ballysillan, the concern about marching rights has become a concern that Protestants are being excluded from parts of the city, even on peaceful business. In Ligoniel, the experience of Drumcree week was that any challenge to the Protestant insistence on marching could lead to extreme personal and communal vulnerability. It had also illustrated the limited ability of the system of law and order to offer protection.
Complaints were made, in both Ballysillan and Ligoniel, that the police were too tolerant towards the 'other’ and too tough on the local young people. Among Catholics in Ligoniel, there is a strong sense that threatening Protestant demonstrations were treated lightly and the much less threatening riots in Catholic areas were responded to with greater severity. During the Summer of 1996 people in both areas felt themselves vulnerable to whirlwind changes outside of their control. The legacy of fear has solidified communal boundaries, but the optimism that was expressed that old links can be revived, offers some hope.
Skegoneill Avenue is a residential street linking the Shore Road to the Antrim Road. There is a small interface area around the junction with Glandore Avenue which includes the small Ashfield area. The local divisions were bluntly described by a resident.
The bottom of Skegoneill is loyalist. The top of Skegoneill is nationalist. We are slap bang in the middle of it.
But local Protestants did not feel there was a history of tension in the area.
All the older houses, Skegoneill Drive, Glandore Parade, Ashfield, they were all ex-servicemen, ex-policemen's houses. So it was always a fairly affluent area. I don’t mean high bracket but comfortably off, everybody worked.
It was regarded as a mixed area, but this was felt to have worked well rather than cause problems.
Most of them are mixed families, there are few which are totally Catholic, most of them are mixed marriages. And in our area you see, the Catholic children are the ones that go out amid collect the bonfire wood.
We have band competitions, York Street, York Road and North Queen Street, there ‘s bands on every corner And they came up Skegoneill and they go along Jellicoe. Now those boys are out to play well, to look well, to win some competition - and half of Glandore came down to see them, Catholics come down to see them (Protestant residents).
On the evening of 10 July 1996 a serious incident took place in the mid-Skegoneill area around the junction with Glandore Avenue which resulted in a number of people leaving their homes. The Drumcree stand-off was into its fourth night and young Protestants had gathered at the Skegoneill/Glandore junction. According to local Protestants, this demonstration was peaceful and a number of older people were present to ensure that things remained calm.
I was trying to keep the teenagers together Although we did agree with it, I was there to make sure they weren’t going honkers. It was peaceful. I was there to make sure they weren’t going to riot, and they didn’t (Protestant resident).
We were previously out for four nights before than but on the 10th night it was the worst. Out at the corner. You know when they were out protesting. Just standing at the corner. We stayed there until about 10.30. I think eleven o’clock would have been the latest that any of us was standing up there (Protestant resident).
Local Catholics however did not perceive this demonstration in the same light, they saw it as threatening.
They were all standing and had a fire lit in the middle of the street. And we were standing at the Northern Bank. That night was quite scary because it was young men standing with balaclavas and stuff on and they'd put barricades across the road and they were burning (Catholic resident).
According to these residents, the events that unfolded on the Wednesday evening were the culmination of tension that had built up over the previous days.
I live in Glandore and was there when three families got put out of their homes, at Ashfield. Just on up, at Donegall Park Avenue, friends of ours was put out of their home, but I never heard of any cases of Protestants being put out of mixed areas, it was only Catholic families (Catholic resident).
There did not appear to be any one specific incident which tipped the balance, but the increasing tension appears to have made some Catholics living near the interface feel that they were no longer safe.
There was one person actually intimidated, was intimidated by his next door neighbour. That was in Ash Gardens (Van Driver).
Local Protestants were surprised and shocked when a number of vans appeared in Skegoneill Avenue to begin to move people out. They claim that charges of intimidation were spurious and were used to exploit the wider situation.
It started off with one woman, one woman rung Sinn Féin - from what we heard, she rung Sinn Féin offices and said she was being intimidated, she wanted out. That’s Where it started. This one woman caused all this hassle, believe it or not.
And she had wanted to leave for a long time. Yes, that one lady - because the pa lice had said about it and we said no she wasn't intimidated and then people said she wanted to move. I mean the woman wanted out and they said that if she moved and claimed intimidation she could get money (Protestant residents).
Local Catholics were also surprised at the appearance of the removal vehicles in the area.
We were standing at the Northern Bank, on the Antrim Road there, when all these minibuses were flying up the road, so we went up - you know people says they’re getting burnt out - so we went up.
The RUC were already on the scene and there seems to have been some discussion about whether the vans would be allowed into the area. Eventually the vans were allowed in but under police control.
The police wouldn’t let the vans go through and we were all standing there amid people - it was like a human kind of trail bringing peoples luggage, like they were bringing out their worldly belongings while these people stood and watched them (Catholic resident).
Next thing there was negotiations between I think it was one of the Sinn Féin ones and a policeman and then they said 'Right, let one van in at a time’. So one van went in, got all the stuff out and brought it up and then kept on doing that (Catholic resident).
Whenever we went in the vans, we had to go in flanked by police. Police flanked the van each side with the shields up, now guarding themselves but guarding the windows and one at the front and one at the back (Van Driver).
One of the concerns for the police seems to have been that the tension might escalate into physical violence given the number of people who were on the street. In fact the rising tension seems to have persuaded other Catholic residents that now was also the time for them to move.
Then, next thing these people in another house right at the corner - it was right beside the protest, right beside where they were lighting afire, walked out the back door and says Come on’. So everybody just formed a line and they were just passing everything out. He was just so frightened, he wasn't one of the ones getting forced out at the time but then it was only a matter of time probably before they found out (Catholic resident).
I think the second woman that went really went because her nerves went bad. She sort of cracked up 'Oh my goodness there is going to be bother; I want to go' (Protestant resident).
On the Protestant side, residents were alarmed at the large numbers of people who had come into the street and the possible threats that this could cause to them.
They were coming from Ardoyne and all, like teenagers and all and young lads all came. There was three hundred of them plus the ones from Sinn Féin. There was ten van loads, wasn't there? Oh easy, car loads and everything.
They also claim that a number of the local Catholic residents were similarly concerned about the developments and did not have any intention of moving.
All hell broke loose. Sinn Féin came down. That was the start of it. My husband said ‘What’s happening? There are crowds of people going past the window’. It transpired that Sinn Féin were down and one lady said she was being intimidated and I can guarantee you she wasn't because she had her stuff in boxes. She had been packed, and a Catholic neighbour said she had been packing through the night on the day before. Catholic neighbours came out and said to Sinn Féin 'What are you doing here?’ They actually asked Catholic neighbours did they want to move out. They said No’, and they came out and said ‘We don’t want you here, we don’t need you here’. So it ended up we said if that lady wants to move, let her move. But it put an awful lot of fear - I even said to a couple of Catholics - there was one particular girl, single mother, one wee boy and I said if you are so afraid you come and sleep in my house tonight. We were quite willing to open our houses (Protestant resident).
The appearance of a well-known republican figure on Skegoneill Avenue added to the concern of Protestants.
When I came out at six o'clock xxx was at my front door My front door is at the side of my house, at the side where the entry is and he was standing at my door And he had his walkie-talkie (Protestant resident).
For Catholics who had come onto the streets, the focus of their concern was on the families being moved out. This provoked a sympathetic and positive response from within the community who wanted to provide whatever assistance they could.
It was so degrading like - there was these people with young families and what was their worldly possessions, getting passed along on this trail to be put on minibuses to go and what, sleep in a community centre.
I think that you'll find the good thing that came out of that was the actual help. I mean you would have put someone up in your own house if you had the room.
And the Centre in Newington was opened for furniture and all from Clifton Park Avenue and all up round Torrens and down the New Lodge. Any community centre that was opened they put stuff in (Catholic residents).
It appears that although the police did not take any action to try to move the Protestant demonstrators away or to clear the road, word reached other loyalist communities in lower North Belfast that Sinn Féin were in the area, and there was a rumour that Protestants in mid-Skegoneill were under threat. This led to a large crowd of local men walking up the road to confront this perceived threat.
Word went down the road, they had heard that Sinn Féin was coming to raise us to the ground. They were more or less coming up to back us up. Yes, to 50y that Sinn Féin isn't going to take over this area. Anybody that was an Orangeman came down the road and put their sash on. Yes, they had their sashes on, obviously they thought that if there was a skirmish you could identify your own (Protestant resident).
The police blocked the road and stopped Orangemen and other local people from confronting both the vans, and the nationalist crowds. This caused some anger among the Protestant crowd who said that they felt intimidated by the large numbers of nationalists and who were already angry with the police for allowing Sinn Féin into the area.
So they had stopped the Orangemen from walking up but they were prepared to let Sinn Féin down. So I went down to the corner. I called an Inspector over; and I asked him what was going on. I said ‘How did they get down there? You must have seen them going down there. You are all standing here, you didn't see them coming down?’ So I made a point of telling him that we wanted them out because they were intimidating us and if they didn’t go out the people in the area would see that they wouldn't get back in again (Protestant resident).
And there was still three hundred Sinn Féiners in Glandore on the way down. But I asked him what the difference was between the Orangemnen walking up and them walking down coming down into the estate. So I said well if that is the case then take the Sinn Féin vans out of the road and let them both come down. One up and the other down: 'We can’t do that, we can't do that, madam' the policeman said 'or we will have a war’. I says ‘Well I’m telling you now, move son, because Sinn Féin are not staying here and the Orangeman are not being stopped’ (Protestant resident).
These exchanges between the police and Protestant residents and the failure of the RUC to remove either the original protests or the street-fires were interpreted as a form of collusion and this in turn caused anger and suspicion among Catholic observers.
They didn't move the barricades away, and they burnt it because then the buses couldn't get round to lift the big pieces of furniture. The police were actually down chatting to the Protestants. I don't mean like talking to them as in 'you have to move' - just chatting to them (Catholic resident).
Feelings on the Protestant side grew stronger and after the departure of the removal vans, a Divisional Mobile Support Unit (DMSU) arrived to clear the crowd off the road. They were accused of using rough tactics, however no official complaint was made about their behaviour and overall it was felt that the police handled the situation reasonably enough.
The riot squad then caused a bit of a problem. That’s the DMSU, the mobile unit, they walk up to you and you know you just see the visor in front of you, you know right up. Maybe because I am older, men don't do that to women - not in my time -a man just does not intimidate. We were not doing anything bar standing. One woman actually came our fairly drunk and I managed to get her out to the side. I’m not saying we need medals or anything pinned on us, I’m just saying that through dignity we kept it from getting out of hand.
But had we not been there, God on1y knows. It did get out of hand in other areas, worse than ours but we kept it under control as much as we could. And I think because the police kind of realised that we were there to help, not to hinder, that they sort of did help us. The police had a lot to answer fur as well in other areas. Maybe not ours (Protestant residents).
The numbers of people on the street seems to have dropped once the removal vans had left the area. A security presence was maintained through the night however.
It was the army that was brought in because they were afraid to leave the area all night. I think they stayed all night (Protestant resident).
But in spite of this presence there was still a tense night ahead for Catholics who were living in the area.
So that night all our family, we had to go to bed with golf clubs. Now that’s not normal. My Daddy told us we had to have them sitting beside the bed in case someone came in, because there were rumours that people were coming up during the night because it was so easy to get from Glandore to the Shore Road, its just a straight drive. So it was just a matter of them ones coming up, throwing a petrol bomb through your Window and driving off again (Catholic resident).
Local Protestant community workers also maintained a visible presence throughout the night to try to ensure that there was no trouble from their own side.
We stood there until 5.30 on the eleventh morning. So I was out from my house at six o’clock the night before and I didn’t get in till the next morning.
They also tried to ensure that the empty house would not be vandalised.
We warned the youths when the houses were left empty that they weren't to go near them. They were to leave them intact, and there wasn’t a broken window there wasn't even any writing on the walls and we made sure they stayed like that (Protestant residents).
The events on Skegoneill Avenue raise many questions. First of all, there is no commonly agreed definition of intimidation. To Protestants, demonstrations in support of Drumcree were not intimidating. To some Catholics, indeed to all who testified to this Inquiry, they clearly were. As a result, there is no agreement that fear was justified. Furthermore, the rescue of Catholic families by removers from Ardoyne was regarded as an invasion by Sinn Féiners and intimidating on the Protestant side.
Second, police decisions in these contexts are open to widely differing interpretations. Whether this can be avoided is doubtful. Nevertheless, the result is that the police appear to be just another party in the context of rioting and street disorder and never the transcendent force of law and order.
Thirdly, the motives of intimidation as grounds for people moving are taken at face value by those who share the fear of intimidation and discounted by those who do not accept that intimidation took place. As a result, people’s fears are constantly being written off by others who do not and cannot share them.
The result was the removal of several Catholic families from mid-Skegoneill by non-statutory groups during the Drumcree stand-off. This has consolidated a view among nationalists that the statutory bodies stand by while Catholics are intimidated. Among Protestants, it has increased the sense that they are vulnerable to ‘invasion’. Neither side expressed any real understanding of the other’s experiences or fears, nor of any lessons which might be drawn for future reference.
The area of Lower North Belfast, from the New Lodge through to Alexandra Park, suffered some degree of violence during the period of the Drumcree stand-off.
However most submissions from within the Protestant community tended to play down the disturbances at this time, and suggested that they were no more than might have been expected given the extensive divisions within the area.
A lot of things that have happened in North Belfast over the summer have been seen as linked directly to Drumcree. A lot of the activity would have happened anyway because we have had a record, unfortunately and tragically of attacks on properties, on homes, on schools, dating back long before Drumcree and long before the Tour of the North. Those things have to be seen in the ongoing context of sectarian confrontation in the north of the city (Orangeman).
While there was some acknowledgement that some disruption in 1996 was a direct result of the protests in support of the Orangemen at Drumcree, this was not seen as particularly serious:
The protests that were organised by the Orange Order over that week, I think by amid large were well organised. The Orange Order is nor always the most organised organisation but by and large people behaved well. There were some minor incidents, fairly minor things.
Most of what I saw was actually intra-community rather than inter-community it was mostly directed inside the Protestant community and was mostly vandalism directed against property rather than against individuals (Orangeman).
In contrast, the submissions made to us from the nationalist community suggested that there actually was some serious, and sustained, inter-communal violence during Drumcree week.
On the night of 8 July a number of lodges marched down the Crumlin Road, Donegall Street, Shore Road and on the way back they marched up Duncairn Gardens and attempted to come into the New Lodge area. At the junction of North Queen Street there were clashes and the RUC got between them. That night they took over the motorway and stayed there to 3am. That exercise was repeated over the next couple of nights. They had literally taken over North Belfast. The RUC were very stretched, similar situations were happening all over Belfast (Nationalist politician).
They were attacking the houses round Park End, like every night of the week there was people with their windows being smashed. In the end the police decided to put a jeep -permanently - beside the Glen to watch out for trouble (Newington resident).
The persistent violence and the fear of further attacks brought people out on to the streets, and this then created, or had the potential for further problems.
I was on the street to four or five in the morning, doing nothing just being there. People were there through fear of being burnt out. The fear was so much they could not stay in their home, because to sit in your house and close the door is worse, when you can see what is happening it is not too bad.
That in itself raised the stakes yet again simply because they were on the streets. When you have people on the streets they can be caught up and mob rule then takes over People came out on the Limestone Road and there was great tension.
There were many stragglers coming along who were intent on engaging in recreational rioting, which I think is a very serious offence, when so many people are scared out of their wits and you have a number of young people who are full of alcohol. It is very hard to deal with people who are intoxicated with fear never mind alcohol (Antrim Road activist).
Besides the persistent low-level violent attacks, some of the trouble was clearly on a much larger scale. There were, for instance, some statements recording more substantial attacks on property and street clashes between rival groups.
One time - it was so well planned - they attacked the Limestone Road and when the police arrived a crowd then attacked Dun cairn Gardens, they broke so many windows and houses and they attacked cars and there were loads of cars and houses damaged but they knew the police were on the Limestone. So they got away with it no problem (Newington resident).
This was not an isolated event according to the submission.
A crowd had been down on North Queen Street, cutting a tree down and then they'd marched up through Tiger’s Bay and onto the Limestone, this was a crowd of about fifty or sixty, and they had balaclavas and all. They run round this corner; baseball bats and everything, they started smashing cars, houses and then we turned round and started chasing them back a bit (Newington resident).
The police response to this violence was often seen as inadequate by nationalists. The RUC were criticised for retaining an inadequate presence at potential flashpoints and for being slow to respond when violence broke out. Included within many submissions was a claim that the RUC were often inconsistent in their responses to the violence, that they responded more severely to nationalists when they took to the streets after the Drumcree parade had been allowed along the Garvaghy Road than when loyalists protested earlier in the week.
Continuing the previous statement, the individual claims that when the police did arrive, they drew their plastic bullets guns and aimed as if to fire at the loyalists, but they then held back.
Everybody was shouting Shoot them, shoot them’ cause if it was the other way round it would have been just ‘pow; pow, pow’ straight away. He went down as if he was about to shoot, and then he got up again.
This may well have been good practice, using the threat of a baton round rather than the actual round itself to deter violence, but it was felt that this practice was more readily adopted when the RUC were confronted with Protestant rioters.
Although there were no references to inter-communal violence from the submissions made from the Protestant community, loyalists were often critical of police action taken against them. In particular an incident in Glasgow Street was referred to by various people. In this case the anger persisted because complaints that were made to the police, at the time and after, were not felt to have been adequately dealt with.
There is a band that comes over from Scotland every year; non-stop now for ten years, they go to this pub in Glasgow Street and they play a few tunes and that’s it.
On 10 July five police Land Rovers drove up, they all jumped out, they assaulted the band members, they walked into the public house and started assaulting the patrons. It started the ball rolling, a couple of hundred people started arriving. You understand what the police look like when they are going into what they call a riot situation, they're dressed up and everything, these police just run amok, straight down Glasgow’ Street, women, children, the lot - fired plastic bullets through peoples' windows (Duncairn area).
I got a lot of complaints about a series of incidents down at Glasgow Street. They were showing windows broken with plastic’ bullets and various things. There were claims made by them about policemen, or they maintained soldiers in police uniforms. They were quite emphatic that the individuals did not have numbers on their uniforms. There were folk who came to me whose credibility I would say was impeccable and they had complaints about attitudes and approaches by the police which caused them concern (Unionist politician).
We had a public meeting about it. The police said they would look into it. There’s been nothing. We’ve had no word back whatsoever on the police actions on the night because they couldn’t identify individual police officers because the DMSU take their numbers off their shoulders, which I believe is wrong. If they’re breaking the law you should be able to identify the person breaking the law (Duncairn area).
After the Drumcree church parade was allowed to pass along the Garvaghy Road, the Protestant areas quietened down. But now nationalists became angry in their turn and took to the streets.
There was a lot of trouble, the eleventh, the Twelfth and the thirteenth - that was the Catholics - it was just built up over the week (Newington resident).
Some of the hostility was turned towards the neighbouring Protestant areas, although people were restrained from making direct sectarian attacks
On the Eleventh night people wanted to go down into the Bay but the community leaders were actually holding everybody back (Newington resident).
A lot of this rioting simply wrecked the local community, a lot of the anger was directed at the forces of the state (Nationalist politician)
Most of this anger was directed at the police. There was resentment at the way the RUC had reversed their original decision over the Drumcree parade, and this had confirmed suspicions which had been briefly challenged over preceding days by the decision to stop the parade.
See the whole week that there was a stand-off in Drumcree - you weren't proud but you were like 'I can't believe the RUC are doing it, they're not going to let them march' and you felt, not good, but you felt like there is something good about that, and then they let them walk through and everyone was so disappointed, and so let down and you were so annoyed about it. It was awful (Newington resident).
With hindsight, there was also a criticism of the way that the police had reacted to nationalists coming out onto the streets to protest.
When there was trouble before the eleventh, when the loyalists were at their worst, nationalist areas were very quiet and it was kept that way until Drumcree fell through. Any time there was trouble maybe one or two jeeps would turn up and the trouble went on even though the police were there. But when the trouble happened after the eleventh if there was any sign of trouble there was maybe thirteen or fourteen jeeps, and there was police everywhere (Newington resident).
And as indicated earlier there was also criticism of the apparently greater readiness of the police to use plastic bullets against nationalists (although loyalists were equally critical of the use of plastic bullets against them). Particular mention was made of the firing of baton rounds in the New Lodge and Antrim Road area on the Twelfth night. There were;
Loads of plastics, you could just be standing there and one would be whizzing by it was unbelievable, if you just looked at the ground, it was like twenty plastics just lying around (Newington resident).
The RUC were only eager to tackle outbreaks in the nationalist areas and are prepared to use any methods deemed necessary especially with the use of plastic bullets. Over one thousand were fired in the New Lodge over a twenty four hour period (Nationalist politician).
Although these people were critical of the way in which the police handled the protests from within the nationalist community, it was also felt that it was conforming to previous patterns of behaviour:
Even other Twelfths, like in past years, it is the nationalist areas that are being policed and it’s not loyalist areas. There’s always trouble round about North Queen Street, at the bottom of the Gardens, but the police would be sitting at the New Lodge rather than sitting at Tiger’s Bay (Newington resident).
Many of the responses to the violence of Drumcree week in Lower North Belfast focused on the police reaction to the events. Both communities were critical of the police actions but where loyalists tended to criticise the way the police had reacted to them, nationalists were critical of what they saw as the differential attitudes: this contrasting behaviour was felt to be unexceptional since it was acknowledged that the police drew its membership overwhelmingly from the Protestant community. The events of the whole week served to harden convictions among nationalists and increase suspicion among loyalists.
THE MONSTER TRUCKS RIOTS,
The area of Lower North Belfast centred around the Tiger’s Bay - Limestone Road - Mountcollyer interfaces were the scene of further street fighting in early September. Trouble began as crowds were leaving a ‘Monster Trucks’ rally in Dunmore Stadium on Sunday 1 September and rapidly spread into neighbouring streets and the adjacent Alexandra Park. A local resident describes the events.
There was a wee bit of hassle inside, but nothing really to talk of I noticed a few faces that we know from Tigers Bay when they seen us they left.
As we were leaving we seen a bit of commotion out on the street - we seen bottles smashing, so we went to see what was happening and there was fellows with crowbars and hammers and loads of bottles and they were just throwing them at everybody. They ran into the park after us and we ended up having to fend them off until we got a lot of other ones in, other people from Dunmore seeing what was happening chased them back a bit.
Cars were just getting wrecked and people were trying to run away there was men against the wall, kind of covering their children and women running through the park screaming.
Once again there was criticism of the police, on this occasion they were blamed for not forseeing the potential for trouble:
There was about five police inside, not a jeep about and you could see the potential for trouble because it’s a flashpoint area, you're talking two minutes walk away there is the biggest working police station in Europe. It took the police ten minutes to arrive (Newington resident).
It is perhaps easy to blame the police for not having enough officers at such an event, especially given the violence in the area over preceding weeks. But on the other hand, at times the RUC come under criticism for maintaining a too prominent position at social events. On this occasion the criticism may be justified for as submissions from within the Protestant community readily acknowledged, the Alexandra Park area had become an increasingly violent interface in recent years.
It draws people from far and wide and the police will quote you the figures about people who have been arrested. At nights they have had up to two hundred people fighting each other in Alexandra Park. People come from Mount Vernon, from Rathcoole, from Short Strand, from everywhere because it is a great place to come if you are looking for that sort of activity (Unionist politician).
After the initial clashes on the Sunday afternoon, trouble continued over the next couple of days. The accounts we were given were somewhat hazy on the sequence of events and on the details.
Protestants came up and broke the windows of the houses around Park End and Newington Street (Newington resident).
The Holy Family Primary School had just gone back, it was their first day back at school, it was like Primary One class and the mothers bringing the children home from school were attacked. A girl got hit on the head and her head was all cut open (Community worker).
I was actually returning to the area, I think it was a Tuesday, and quite simply there was a full blown riot taking place (at Mountcollyer Street). The police responded with one Land Rover The Land Rover drove down towards the loyalists, the nationalists, the Catholics were throwing stones as well (Nationalist politician).
The homes were attacked, which led to another week of people being on the streets, but the most sinister thing, which I think was unprecedented, was an attack at 2pm, during daylight, from a mob. Parkside people who witnessed it said it could have been as much as one hundred men, now it could have been thirty but when you are under attack you don’t have time to count (Antrim Road activist).
There were houses attacked on the upper Duncairn Gardens and there were houses attacked on Halliday's Road, from both sides of the community. I’m not denying there was a bit of conflict - you know people’s homes were wrecked, their windows and their cars were wrecked (Duncairn area).
The violence and disturbances quietened down almost as rapidly as they had appeared. This seems to have been largely due to hard talking by a few community activists who got people from both communities to address the problem.
Non-political representatives met and said ‘if it starts on our side, we'll tell them to knock it on the head’ and on Tiger’s Bay side the same sort of thing happened. So it became a community thing, representatives from the two communities decided ‘we will control it’ and, within twenty four hours, the serious trouble stopped (Nationalist politician).
Although the violence stopped the area remained tense, people continued to gather on the street, and this made further clashes possible.
Limestone Road became a centre of attraction, there was stragglers coming from everywhere to see what was happening, irrelevant of their political opinions they were wasters. They were coming from as far as Rathcoole and the Falls Road. It became a flashpoint (Antrim Road activist).
A series of meetings over several days involving a wide range of people from both communities were needed before the tension began to decline. The meetings themselves were often tense affairs and the process of dialogue itself was fraught with problems.
When all these deals were going on with different paramilitaries and representatives, we kept the RUC informed of what was happening, obviously for safety we told the paramilitaries that we were keeping the RUC informed (Antrim Road activist).
Another development that was seen to reduce the trouble was the erection of a fence across the top of Mountcollyer. The plans appear to have been initiated by the police.
The councillors for Oldpark and Tiger’s Bay minus Sinn Féin, were brought into North Queen Street, the police knew they had a very serious problem. They had a flip chart and said ‘Where do you want a peace line?’ (Nationalist politician).
The councillors seem to have been reluctant to agree to a position for the barrier, which would define and fix the territorial boundaries, without consulting with their communities, and would not make a final decision at this time. Community activists also seem to have been involved in the plans for the barrier as part of the wider moves to reduce the tension, they responded to demands from within the community.
I met xxx in the middle of the Limestone Road, suffered a lot of verbal abuse as I went to meet him, we came to an agreement that we would get so many members of the community from Tigers Bay community Mountcollyer community and some from Newington community. We met together up on the Limestone, people in the community who it was affecting and it has worked wonders. They came to an agreement to put a barrier up (Duncairn area).
A barrier was erected at the top of Mountcollyer and, despite concern over the loss of housing, it was felt that it was effectively designed to deal with any further trouble.
There is two fences at the top of Mountcollyer Street, about twenty yards apart, if the fence is on1y a couple of inches thick you could still sling things over it, so to create a sterile zone means you have to be pretty athletic to start breaking windows, but it has meant that some Catholic families have had to move. Houses have been lost as a consequence (Nationalist politician).
A similar strategy, to erect a barrier, but this time a gated barrier, was decided for the junction of Hallidays Road and Duncairn Gardens. In this case the initiative seems to have come largely from within the nationalist community and to have arisen as a result of the persistent attacks on property in Duncairn Gardens over previous weeks. Some people were critical of the decision.
The police just came and started putting the barrier tip on Hallidays Road. Twenty five years there hasn’t been a barrier up on Hallidays Road, when the troubles was at its worst here in the 1970s there was no need for a barrier (Duncairn area).
if you look at the disgust at the one that went up in Duncairn Gardens, there was no consultation, people complained, Protestants complained their shopping area was now restricted, there was no consultation (Antrim Road activist).
Within the Protestant community there was both a dislike of the barriers as a physical presence and as a constraint. But there was also a feeling that they were erected as a response to demands from within the nationalist community, or simply to appease Catholics.
The nationalists got a barrier erected at the top end of Mountcollyer Street, the Protestant people don't want the barrier They want the cage taken down. The Protestant people don’t want to live under them conditions. They don't want to live under barricades and behind steel doors and all.
When they built the barrier on Hallidays Road the police was trying to appease the Catholic community, because Mr Flanagan had come out and said that he has to try and build up relations between the RUC and the Catholic community.
Building up relationships between the RUC and the Catholic’ community you know he was knocking down relationships between the Protestant community and the RUC (Grove area).
More barriers has went up than came down, because of certain individuals putting fear into their communities, I'm talking about the Catholic community, that the Protestants are going to attack here and attack there, they are stirring up feelings within the community. The people on Duncairn Gardens was coming out ‘We want the barrier up on Hallidays Road’ (Duncairn area).
Nationalists on the other hand welcomed the barriers although they viewed them from a more pragmatic perspective, as a necessary imposition to control violent clashes. However some of the younger people in the nationalist community were sceptical of the value of the barrier and of the reasons being offered for the cessation of the violence.
I think because the fighting has stopped, its got nothing to do with the gate, I think its got more to do with the fact of the season, its winter and its cold. Even in the park, when there used to be riots in Alexandra Park, it was always the summer months. It would start about May, just coming up to the marching season and would finish about mid-September when everyone was going back to school. So I think its got nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of gates, its just the fact that its cold now’ (Newington resident).
This argument would suggest that people would continue to clash in spite of the new barriers. They would either confront each other at other existing interfaces or that new sites of conflict would come into existence. This line of reasoning is implicit in many of the statements that refer to the persistent nature of the divisions within North Belfast and the seemingly constant changes to the social make up of many areas. Although the incidents outside the Dunmore Stadium were acknowledged as the flashpoint, the Mountcollyer area had suffered a growing problem of sectarian violence over recent years.
As regards Limestone/Mountcollyer - that’s a nightmare situation that’s been going on for years. There is about twenty houses up there that are sort of isolated and they get forgotten about. The people are determined to stay but they have had it summer after summer after .summer for the past five or six years, back to about ‘91. When they closed off Adam Street and Lepper Street it moved from Duncairn. Where does it move to? Where is the next interface?
People living on the Limestone Road have had their windows covered with grills for years. There have been attacks on houses at both ends of Halliday’s Road and out into the Gardens. That has been going on for years. The attacks on schools were greater this year (Unionist politician).
This increasing and recurrent violence was seen to be a result of the demographic changes which were perceived by Protestants to be part of a broader challenge to their position in the area. And while the new barriers may have been erected in response to concerns for security within the nationalist community, residents of Tiger’s Bay felt that they were part of a wider and more sinister campaign against the Protestant community.
Many entries in this area are all closed off there has either been walls built across them and there has been locked gates put up so you can’t take short cuts any longer; you can’t get an easy way into Tiger’s Bay.
I have always had the feeling that the NIO, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Police Authority are systematically driving the Protestants out of North Belfast. I’m not saying the Catholic community is driving them out, I’m saying the authorities is driving them out (Duncairn area).
The new barriers were seen by Protestants as the next step in this wider campaign.
We don’t want to move no more. York Street has disappeared. Sailorstown has disappeared. We have moved from the New Lodge. We have moved right across Duncairn. Tiger’s Bay is now three or four streets. We’re going to be pushed across the Limestone. We’re going to be pushed out of Mountcollyer We don’t want to move, we want to remain here (Grove area).
Upper Mountcollyer, Parkend Street and all around there, that was a Protestant community. Now the Protestants let the Catholics move in there because there is a Chapel just across the road - its an overspil lfrom the Lodge. They‘ve took over the area now, there is only one Protestant family in Parkend Street (Duncairn area).
That little bit of Mountcollyer Street, and we are talking sectarian geography here and territorial matters, those people are the last strip of housing that stops, as they would perceive it, people moving from Newington down to the park and what you would then see instead of a confrontation being at Newington, Mountcollyer, it would shift over across the park to the other side, down to the bottom of the park to Gainsborough and Deacon or over to the Orange Hall (Unionist politician).
This sense of being a beleaguered people, ran through most of the submissions from the Protestant community. While the nationalist submissions focused on the immediate problems of the violent clashes, the unwanted parades, and the police responses, Protestant concerns addressed their long term position within North Belfast. They claimed that they were being neglected, their houses were not renovated, that when areas were renewed not enough replacement housing was provided.
It started off with nearly five hundred houses in (Tiger’s Bay) being knocked down with a promise of something like two hundred and eighty put back. We were lucky to get about one hundred and fifteen (Duncairn area).
Similar claims were put to us from Protestant communities across North Belfast. Their strongly held feelings can be summed up in two final quotations. The first of these addresses their concerns about the attitudes of the state and statutory bodies towards them, the other is addressed to the nationalist community.
There is a perception that somewhere in the higher echelons of power there was a plan to use the Logan and the motorway to divide Belfast. South and east would be loyalist, west and north would be republican. There is also a feeling that when Protestant houses are run down, the Housing Executive say ‘We’ll not bother fixing them - let them fall into disrepair and then offer them a house in Rathcoole, in Monkstown, offer them a house in Carrick. That gets them out’.
The loyalist working class want to stay in Lower North Belfast. If it has to be a mixed community fair enough, but will the nationalists and loyalists work together for a mixed community. Sinn Féin talk a lot about cross-border institutions, the border for people in lower North Belfast isn’t down in Crossmaglen, its at Duncairn Gardens (Grove).
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