'On the Edge' edited by Neil Jarman (1996)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The events in Torrens, in the week of 12th July probably attracted more media coverage than elsewhere in North Belfast, not least because they began so early in the week, on Monday 8 July, the day after the Drumcree church parade was stopped. Much of the pattern of events in Torrens was subsequently repeated elsewhere later in the week (for example, in Skegoneill) and it is worth looking in some detail at local people’s understanding of how and why the events played themselves out.
The events in Torrens involved a large number of individuals, Protestant and Catholic residents of the area, but also people from outside who were drawn in or chose to involve themselves in the unfolding trouble. We begin with the personal accounts of local residents who were involved at the very beginning of the violence, around 8pm on Monday evening.
A number of long standing Protestant residents of the Torrens estate felt that their community had been poorly treated last Summer because they were blamed for forcing Catholic neighbours to move out of the area. They, however did not feel that they were to blame for the beginning of the trouble in the area.
On the evening of Monday 8 July there was a protest in support of the Drumcree stand-off at the corner of Torrens Avenue and Oldpark. It was agreed that at 8. 10pm everyone would break up, go back to their respective homes and that would he all there would be to it.
The protest broke up at 8. 10pm, as agreed, and the crowd had walked down Torrens Drive to the other end where it meets Torrens Avenue and cut down an alley-way at the side of the Torr Heath Community Centre. My friend [who lives in Torrens Drive] and myself stopped in Torrens Drive to see my mother. A resident of Torrens Drive started hurling verbal abuse at both of us. She came out and shouted What’s a woman like you standing out at your door for? You won’t let my kids play but they so and so will tomorrow, you bastard you.’
I said ‘Who are you talking to?’ She said ‘My children will play at your door if they want, in fact they will kick your f-ing door if they want’. And she started hurling verbal abuse, along with a few other friends who were coming from the house.
I had to speak to her one time in the past [about her children]. But on 8th July she just started on me. We had no problem living with the people in this street before, we were friendly enough with them (Protestant, Torrens).
This verbal exchange attracted the attention of other people who had been part of the protest. And this led to the initial act of violence.
Everything had passed off peacefully, there was nothing happening at all, no trouble, no nothing, and when the other people who had been at the protest heard us being insulted they came hack. She did not see the crowd coming round - it wasn’t a crowd, it was just a few. When she realised that they were coming round, that she wasn’t only shouting at us, she ran in and slammed her door.
It was at this stage that two or three ran up the path and they thumped the door. She wouldn’t open the door and something was put through her window. We were in a state of shock and it just escalated from there (Protestant, Torrens).
Another local resident gave a similar version of these events.
The people who were on the road blockade were local people. They had come up Torrens Drive and they were singing, and these three girls were standing at Torrens Drive - they were a bit under the weather; Roman Catholic people you know, and people walked on, singing away there. They went round until the entry beside the community centre on their way round to the other part of the district, where they lived. We heard yelling and shouting and it was these girls were shouting at these two elderly people on the other side of the road.
We went back again and there was a bit of hassle with the women and one of the fellows lost the bap and jumped over the garden gate, run up the path and there was a bike sitting here - he put it through the window (Protestant, Torrens).
Protestants from Torrens were willing to acknowledge that one of those on the protest had physically attacked the Catholic Resident’s house, but they felt the initial provocation had been from the Catholic woman. They did not attempt to justify the act of throwing a child’s bike through a window but put the violence that followed it into a wider context in which Protestants more generally felt under threat in North Belfast.
The Catholic woman who was at the centre of this initial conflict recounted her understanding of the events. She felt that tension had been building in the area for a few days prior to the night of the protest.
Last 11 July there was no trouble, it was just this year. I don’t know why, maybe it was because there was more Catholics moving in. Coming up to the Twelfth week this year there had been trouble, about three days before the 8th, a van pulled into the street and guys got out and they painted all the lamp-posts red, white and blue and put Union Jacks up. I didn‘t say anything, just let it go, as far as I was concerned my kids thought they were American flags. And I had my back door wrote on weeks before that, the police had to come out and it was a slogan: Get out you Fenian C, you‘re next’.
On 8 July they were demonstrating at the top of my street, beside the police barracks, about the Drumcree stand-off. As the demonstration dispersed and they were coming away from it I was out closing a gate and the neighhour facing me shouted over something. I says 'It's ridiculous, I wouldn’t let my kids play ball here because of you. I respect you because you are an old person, but this is ridiculous. And the woman with her started shouting over to me - ‘Can we not defend our Loyalist son’s’ - and started heating her chest. That’s when the whole demonstration came running back again. They all run up my path and attacked my house and tried to put the front door in and there was me and a couple of other girls in the house, because it was my birthday that day. There must have been fifty people at the demonstration - they were climbing over railings, running up my path, to me there would have been more than thirty people came up the path. We had to lie on the floor and hold the second door; next to the front door; closed, push a chair over and hold it and my wee boy's hike was sitting outside the door and they lifted it and put it, and then a plank of wood, through the window.
But the police came on the scene really quickly - we were still lying holding the door They said they watched it from the barracks on camera. They expected the demonstrators to wreck the cars as they were going down the street, but instead they attacked my house.
When the police came the crowd was still at the bottom of my path. Now most of the fellows had disappeared, it was all women at this time shouting abuse, and I said to the police 'What do you do here, can you not remove them ones? I can point out here and now who done it’. They said 'No we can’t. Get you back into the house’. So I had to phone for help to get my brothers to come up and put a plank of wood up at the window because the window was in. (Catholic ex-resident Torrens).
The initial dispute between these women seems to have been the result of at least two factors. First, there appears to have been some past antagonism between them, as neighbours, over the issue of children playing in the street. Second, the Catholic resident’s reaction to the road blockade itself, and to some of her neighbours involvement in it, was shaped by her experience of harassment from unknown individuals in the immediate days and weeks before the 8 July. In contrast her Protestant neighbours could not see the road blockade as being in any way threatening to the small number of Catholic residents of the estate.
Most of them, if they were being homiest, would tell you that they weren't intimidated. The 8 July road blockade didn't take place where there were Catholic residents. It took place at the junction of Torrens Avenue and Oldpark Road, well away from here, and most of the people who were at the protest did not live in Torrens Drive. So I don’t know what would have intimidated them. They lived in Torrens Road, Torrens Court. (Protestant, Torrens).
These are very different starting points for understanding the beginning of the trouble the Catholic resident saw all of those people in the street that evening as threatening her and involved in some way in the violence, while Protestant residents understood the incident in terms of the ‘two or three’ individuals who (wrongly) broke her window.
Differences in opinion about the scale and nature of the intimidation, and about who was intimidated by whom, dominated the accounts presented to the Inquiry in many ways. The very fear of intimidation seems to have been sufficient to make some Catholic residents decide to move out.
The police were telling us to get into the house. We were scared to go into the house in case they came through the back, and they were shouting over ‘We are going to petrol bomb you' and 'We are going to get you, you’re next’ and all. It was very very frightening. So I was saying to the police ‘What do I do here? They are saying they are going to petrol bomb me, I mean this is my home’. They says, Nothing we can do, lift what you can and be thankful you get out with your life’. That was their attitude and then everybody just started moving.
My sister-in-law has a car so she was doing runs, and they tried to take her car off her; she had to just lock the doors and go quick, they tried to hijack her car - this is the Protestants - and then we were told there was ones with guns behind the houses, so it was frightening, you had to get out. And then as time went on, panic broke out and all the Catholic families in the street were told to leave. So everybody started getting their own vans and leaving. The people in Ardoyne all came up and stood and helped the people move out.
And then as more people came up from Ardoyne the police phoned for hack-up and they came in their riot gear and pushed the other; Protestant crowds out of the street (Catholic ex resident, Torrens).
Besides being frightened by the threats this woman was also surprised by the way some of her neighbours had turned on her.
My neighhour came in to me, they were an elderly couple. The husband came in ‘I’m awful sorry’ he says ‘you were a good neighhour’. But I says to him 'Your wife’s standing there shouting abuse at me’. He says I know but I can‘t do anything about it’. Do you know, a total shock it was, I would have talked to her; she would have given the kids bars of chocolate. In the end she was shouting up the path ‘We’re going to get you’. It was just, like you had to get out, you had no protection (Catholic ex resident, Torrens).
Protestant residents were similarly surprised by the rapid escalation of the trouble, and by the sudden appearance of large numbers of people from outside of the area who gathered on the streets and made them feel threatened.
I was just sitting doing a bit of knitting at the time and I got a phone call from my neighbour up the street that there was a bit of hustle and bustle in the street. The next door neighbour, which was one of my Catholic neighbours, knocked the door and said ‘There’s something going on’. I went out and the street was crowded and all we could see was a crowd of fellows moving a lady’s furniture out of the top end of the Drive. One of the ladies had a mobile phone and who she was phoning nobody knows but within 10 minutes there was a leading Ardoyne Republican came into the Drive and started shouting ‘Sit in you f-ing house, don’t let the Orange B’s put you out’.
These other two Catholic girls on either side of me - I said ‘Look leave the kids in my house, put them in my bedroom if you're scared, and sit in your house’. We stood at the door and kept on watching. The lady at the end of the Drive was moving out, but it was fellows from Ardoyne and that was that came up and started moving her out. The next thing, they started moving down to a house further down the street and they started moving things out (Protestant, Torrens).
Individuals from Ardoyne who were on the scene at an early stage presented their actions as driven purely by the concern to help fellow Catholics who they considered to be under threat and intimidated by Protestants in Torrens, as one of the van drivers explains.
We are a community group and the whole community knows where to get some of us at any time. Somebody came to our house and asked us to move furniture because there was people in Torrens getting burnt out. There was no trouble whatsoever in any of the Nationalist areas, it was just normal life and all of a sudden it blew up and they started putting people out of Torrens.
They asked us because we were the only ones that was prepared to go in with vans. Whenever we arrived there, it seems laughable to ask people to believe it, but the police was actually standing by watching a handful of people put these Catholics out of their houses. I said to one of the policemen ‘Are you going to do anything about this?’ and he shrugged his shoulder and said 'Its nothing to do with me’ (Ardoyne resident and community worker).
Catholics living in other nearby areas were also concerned at the developments in Torrens, as a woman from the Oldpark Road recounts.
I had just moved into a new home on the Oldpark Road diagonally across from Torrens. It was about 10 or 11pm, I can’t remember the exact time, I got a frantic banging on the door and it was the chairperson of the Ardoyne Community Group saying we need the buses, that the people from Torrens were being burned out of their homes. You could see all the rioting going on. You could see smoke billowing and as I said the houses are diagonally across from where I live.
A friend of mine, her husband, I saw him across the street. He was holding his head and I called him over - his sister-in-law lives in the middle of Torrens, or lived I should say. He went there to help her move her stuff out and be was set upon by the police that were there. He went in and said ‘Look mate I’m going in to get my sister-in-law out’ and they told him to go down the alley and, this is his word, the next thing he heard was ‘Get him’, and he was batoned about the head and shoulder (Catholic, Oldpark).
Catholic perceptions that the police were, either passively or actively, supporting intimidation of Catholic residents of Torrens, included a belief that the police were facilitating, or involved in, the arrival of Protestants from other parts of North Belfast into the estate.
The police had, what I call war wagons blocking off the entrances to Torrens, and this is what actually happened. They moved their Land Rovers away a white car came out, headed up towards Ballysillan, came back from Ballysillan full of people dressed in camouflage gear; back into Torrens and the police moved their Land Rover back. Then a red car came out and they headed down towards Westland, came back, another load of people in the car; headed in to Torrens. And this was going on the whole evening, but the Land Rovers were moving back and forth to allow these cars to go in and out. Needless to say they were bringing reinforcements into Torrens to intimidate the Catholic families that were living there. It was just constant - those two particular cars, the white car and the red car going up and down, and up and down, and the speed that they were going at and the hand gestures and the yelling ‘Up the UVF Up the UFF’ it was constant. A very good friend of mine lives on Wyndham, she had just moved in there and I rang her up and said to her ‘At least come to my house, we have a huge back garden and at least we have an escape route into Ardoyne’. That’s the way I was thinking, truthfully. I planned our escape route (Catholic, Oldpark).
I was working right through the night and saw two Ford Transits, a blue and a red Ford Transit actually ferrying people in there. They were very like police wagons. They had the plastic windows and the vent on the top because the windows don’t open. The Catholic community knows that it is only police vehicles which is driving about with plastic windows and the vents on the top. They were ferrying people in from Tyndale, Silverstream, Ballysillan (Ardoyne resident and community worker).
Residents in the Wyndham area saw similar vehicle movements in and out of Torrens, and they also became afraid that they too would become a target of attacks.
The ones that came that night of the 8 July weren't from the area. They were pulled in from somewhere else. And I have never seen them with petrol bombs before just directly out our back. That is everybody's big fear; petrol bombs. I don’t know how many it was because it just seemed to be continuous, that they were firing (Catholic, Wyndham Street).
By 10 - 11 pm a large number of Protestant men had gathered at the far end of the Torrens estate and a large number of Catholic men were in Torrens Drive at the front of the estate. The presence of these crowds were interpreted by each side as deliberate and planned intimidation of the other community. The RUC were positioned between the two groups and seemed to have concentrated on ensuring they were kept apart rather than trying to disperse people.
The people in this area wanted them people out of the district, not the residents, we are talking about people who invaded this district, the two hundred people.
The short number of police they had, because of the incidents were going on all over the town, they had them stuck in all the entries, blocking the entries off. We couldn’t get up, if anybody made a move, anybody from the other end of the district made a move the baton rounds were fired.
They had enough police to hold us back and this is not knocking the police, but they hadn‘t enough to put the other ones out. They were using baton rounds on us too. They didn’t want any confrontation. Maybe in hindsight it was a good thing or there might have been more problems (Protestant, Torrens).
There was a recognition of the difficulties the police were under from people in the Protestant community. There was also an acknowledgement that it was the responsibility of community leaders to try to keep things under control.
I rung the police in the Oldpark. He says 'We know there is two hundred people in Torrens Drive and we’ve stretched manpower’. Nobody is blaming the police here. Nobody is knocking the police. We’re saying the police were stretched to the limit and there was about a hundred blokes in this area here, trying to get into Torrens Drive to help us and like, if they had things would have been a lot worse.
One Unionist politician, I got him in, I got him to come up and try and get things peacified, calmed down. We talked to the police at the corner of the entry here, at the side of the community centre. We were able to hold these fellows to a certain extent but then, the ones doing the mediating they’re always stuck in between the police and the ones that are wanting to get at the police, or wanting to get at the people that’s beyond the police. We wanted to get the people out of the district (Protestant, Torrens).
The Unionist politician responded to calls for assistance from people in Torrens, but had some problems getting into the area.
On my way up there was a lot of sort of incidents happening. I had to go back and along the Shore Road to actually go up though Fortwilliam and in through Westland to get to Torrens.
When he arrived in Torrens the situation was tense and his attempts to deal with the problem proved difficult.
There were six police officers and about one hundred and fifty nationalists. There was no doubt in my mind that the people who were in the houses, the Protestants, weren’t allowed out and that these people, [from Ardoyne] were using threatening behaviour and saying obscenities. Most of these people were pensioners or very young children that were in the houses. This was about 11.30/11.45. And I spoke to the police officer who said Look, there is nothing we can do, we can‘t move, all we are doing is trying to ensure that they don’t create any havoc with the people who are in the houses’. I said to him 'This isn’t a very good situation. I think somebody needs to negotiate’.
I had said that, if they could identify somebody in the crowd, I would talk to them to ask them to withdraw, to allow me to get the people out of the houses. Before he had even given me the answer; about four people came down and one of them spotted me and he said to the police ‘If you don’t get that Orange bastard out of here we will burn the people alive’. One of my concerns was that there was a grandmother of a loyalist prisoner who was in one of the houses and nationalists were taunting her saying 'We are going to kill you, we know your grandson is in the UVF’ - all this sort of stuff
At this point he withdrew from the frontline and phoned Oldpark RUC station. He told the officer that he thought the situation was so volatile that a stronger security presence was needed.
I said I think we have got to a stage where the army must come in. They then told me that we couldn’t get the army. The police informed me that there were actually troops in Girdwood barracks, but that nobody could get them out, only the security people at Stormont. So I rang David Ervine and got him to get onto the NIO and he acted as a go-between.
The army came in about an hour later I then tried to get people out of the area who shouldn’t have been there - there were a number of people who had got there before I did because they had heard about the nationalists. By then two houses had been destroyed. Both of them had been destroyed by nationalists, both of them belonged to Catholics (Unionist politician).
The arrival of a stronger security presence seems to have ensured that no more people were forced to leave, or feel the need to leave that night, and seems to have prevent any further street violence that night.
More Move Out
The next day, Tuesday 9 July, however a number of the remaining Catholic residents in Torrens moved out. Some of them reported that they had been told to leave by people they believed to be loyalist paramilitaries; others appear to have felt under threat from both sides.
The first night there was only three or four families put out hut the next day it happened on a much wider scale. Any Catholic which lived in Torrens was just told to get out. They went up with plastic bags and rapped people’s doors and says ‘You have half an hour to get out’. There was some windows broke and - slogans written on their back doors UVF - UFF - UDA - sort of threatening them, letting them know what could happen (Ardoyne resident).
I used to live in Torrens Drive until the morning of 9 July 1996 when three men come to the door and told me that I had an hour to get out of the area or else.
My mate lived in Torrens Drive too. He had already been put out, and he and his kids stayed with us, and they came the next day and told me to get out or else. I gave the names to the police. The police came out to interview me approximately four weeks ago and said they couldn’t charge the people involved because they didn ‘t come hooded and they didn’t use an organisation's name, they didn’t use UDA, UVF. They said all they had to do was go up in court and say that they were advising us to move out. It was people from just the next street. Two of them I know are connected with UVF I know that for a fact. And there was other ones involved - they didn’t come to the door but they were standing outside it, standing talking to the police outside the gate. One of them has been subsequently charged with intimidation and released on High Court bail. He actually lived about a hundred yards from where we lived. But they were all local people who was doing the intimidating in the Torrens (Catholic ex-resident, Torrens).
One Unionist politician who returned the next day and tried to reassure some of the Catholic residents who were moving out that they would not be attacked if they decided to stay in their homes.
I said People from Ballysillan won’t intimidate you. You have every right to live here and I am telling you now you can stay'. And they said to me 'Well you can’t stay in our house for twenty four hours a day we need twenty four hours protection’. I said ‘But I will say publicly on television that I support your right to stay here’.
She said to me ‘Well to be honest if you were to do that we would come under threat from nationalists. We have been told to have our bags packed and that certain Nationalists are going to come round and take us out. That’s why the cameras are here’. And I said ‘So you are telling me this is all stage managed? She says 'No we are not telling you that, we are just telling you we can‘t stay because both sides are intimidating us’. I could understand that you know (Unionist politician).
Some people were reluctant to leave the area, but felt that the increasing pressure was too much and in the end they had no choice.
On the Monday night my other neighbour said ‘Well we’re not moving’. These four fellows came up the path next door to me and the husband says ‘What do you want?’ - ‘We’re here to protect you’ - I need none of your f-ing protection. Get away from about me, I’m alright, I’ve got good neighbours’. And he threw them down the path. My neighbour ended up in my house, until seven o’clock in the morning.
My Neighbour knocked my door at eleven o’clock the next morning. They said ‘we’re going to move out because ‘You will not get sleeping tonight again if we are here’. And I said ‘Who is putting you out?’ - ‘No one is putting me out, we are scared, we’re just going’. But I said ‘No-one has interfered with you, no-one has come near you, nobody has intimidated you, have they?’ - ‘No’.
They threw their arms around me, they kissed me. They said ‘We’re sorry, what’s happening’. Later I found out the pipes were cut in each house on either side of me. The water was up to afoot deep. It wasn't the people that was in the house that done it, hut the henchmen that they got in to move them out. Two days after it they knocked my door with a present for me, to say thank you and they were sorry they couldn’t stay (Protestant, Torrens).
Apart from the Unionist politician quoted above, none of the Protestants who spoke to the Inquiry believed that Catholics in Torrens had been threatened or told to leave by Protestants. As the last quote above and others below show, they believed that Catholics left the area either because Nationalists made them leave or because they wanted to leave anyway.
Who Intimidated Who?
The continued presence of Catholics from other areas in Torrens, a rally from Ardoyne to Torrens on Wednesday 10th July night, and the wrecking of houses abandoned by Catholic residents, all fed into more deep-seated beliefs in this community that there was a long-term nationalist plan to ‘take over’ their area.
Intimidating the residents of the area went on for approximately three days. Can you imagine fellows walking about with cudgels and calling you Orange B’s and ‘You will be next’ and ‘Don’t think you are safe on the front of the road because you are living at the Police Station’. They had a march from New Lodge Road up, a two thousand plus crowd, it was all well managed. They want to take this area over completely because its been told that we’ll not be here for long. The amount of slogans that were painted on the area, right up to Cliftonville Circus, for months - ‘Torrens will be burnt out’. You know, they want this complete area, they want the complete Oldpark Road. They want to make it a totally Catholic area (Protestant, Torrens).
Catholics, on the other hand, saw the rally on the Wednesday night as a legitimate reaction to the events of the previous two days.
On the second day it escalated that much that we were stretched to the limit. We had nowhere to put anybody or any stuff and people turned round and says ‘Why are these people moving?’ So there was a rally from Ardoyne Avenue to Torrens. The people marched up and said to the police ‘Look, either you protect these people or we will protect them’. There was no fighting or anything, it was just a clear and simple case of let them see that people was behind what Catholics was left and would stand behind them. That’s basically what the rally was for. I think it was put over at one time that nationalists tried to put out the Protestants but it wasn’t so. It was just nationalist people saying that they wanted to live in their houses. A lot of people who have moved out of the likes of Ardoyne and the Bone have bought houses there, and there was one girl was moved out and as we brought the last of her stuff out, there was people moving in to take the house (Ardoyne resident).
Protestant Torrens residents believed that the pressure put on Catholic residents to leave by other nationalists was part of a bigger propaganda exercise, and this was facilitated by the fact that many of the Catholic families who left had been living in privately rented houses on the estate.
It was the IRA took the Roman Catholic people out of here, the IRA that took the Roman Catholic people out, the same week, of Westland Road. The same week the Roman Catholic people were asked to leave their houses by the IRA in Skegoneill and if you turn round to me and say that’s not propaganda by the IRA, I don’t know what is (Protestant, Torrens).
There are still Catholics who have lived in this area most of their married lives who refused point blank to he intimidated by Catholics out of their homes and they are still living in this area. Those people who moved out were people who had moved in within the past year The Catholics who wouldn’t move out own their homes. The ones who moved out all lived in DHSS houses. That way they didn’t care about getting out. Because I says What about your furniture and that?’ - I don’t care, he says ‘its not mine, I’m going’. (Protestant, Torrens).
The issue of who left and who stayed raises questions about the different nature of the stake’ people have in local communities, and the ‘stake’ they either have, or haven’t, got in maintaining or building relations with their neighbours. In the case of Torrens, it seems that the declaration of paramilitary ceasefires, together with the availability of ex-Housing Executive, but now privately rented, houses (and a shortage of NIHE houses elsewhere), resulted in a number of new Catholic, residents settling in Torrens in 1995. Many of these people did not become known by theit Protestant neighbours and this helped fuel suspicions about their backgrounds.
There is people lived here that we didn't know, people we have never got to know. There were fellows just out of prison, we found this out, an IRA man just out of prison for bombing, settled at the back of us (Protestant Torrens).
In addition there were also illusions to ‘lifestyle’ disputes between old and new neighbours. The example of words being exchanged about children playing was mentioned at the beginning of this section; other people mentioned the numbers of young single people, of drinking and drugs as issues that maintained a divide between neighbours.
People who had recently moved into an area like Torrens, which was dominated by the ‘other community’, and then felt themselves vulnerable in the build up of tension surrounding Drumcree, had few reasons to risk life and limb by staying put, unless they had bought their house and so had a material stake in remaining. It is hardly surprising that people without such a stake would prefer not to live in an area of communal tensions, but this was probably true of some Protestants in Torrens as well as Catholics. Both communities, however, interpreted such behaviour on the part of members of the other community as attempts to screw the system’ rather than reflecting people’s fears and distaste at the events that had occurred.
There was a lot of Protestants left the street - they weren’t intimidated out - to get rehoused. To get a house they were saying they were intimidated out too, because they were in private landlords houses, to get a Housing Executive house. And they have all been rehoused, so they have (Catholic, ex-resident Torrens).
By Thursday 11 July, quiet had returned to the Torrens estate, but those few days of violence and threats have had a much wider and longer lasting effect on community relations in the Torrens/Oldpark/Cliftonville Road areas. Drumcree week left very high levels of distrust and bitterness. By December 1996, when this Inquiry gathered information from local people, attacks on churches and schools, angry verbal exchanges, painting of slogans and intimidation of individuals in their homes, and restrictions on the use of shops, were still being reported.
One family moved back into Torrens a lot of weeks back. They were only back and they got up the next morning and they had painted slogans, which are still on to this day, on the windows and doors. Now, we know they won’t let Catholic’s move again but yet there is a powerful lot of the houses empty and they can't get anybody for them. Whenever they were fixing the streets and the houses in Clifton Park Avenue, the fellow who owns the houses was told by Loyalist paramilitaries that he was not to let them out to Catholic families. So how can you say intimidation is over? (Ardoyne Resident).
Three days after it, 13 or 14 July, I walked to the sweetie shop down the Cliftonville Road, me and another girl, and they started to call us Orange B’s. We went into the shop and they came down to get us out of the sweetie shop. I was trapped in the shop and there was a lady that lived on the Cliftonville road, she shouted 'The next time yous come down to this shop or send your kids down, they'll be going up with broken legs’ (Protestant, Torrens).
This girl said that if she had her way there would be no Protestants allowed into the shop but she needs the job so if she had to serve them she will, but doesn’t want to. Well I just said she wouldn’t have to serve me, so I don’t bother. I haven’t bought a loaf in it since. (Protestant, Torrens).
I was going up the Oldpark Road with my mother and we were talking, not about anything in particular; and this girl, she lives facing the bus stop, who was very nice to me when my husband died - she had a wee girl who died - and she shouted at me about being up the road at the 8th July road blockade, but I just never answered her (Protestant, Torrens).
I don’t know whether it was planned but quite a few Catholics who live on the Oldpark Road wouldn’t speak to me. Now admittedly a couple of them have started to speak again but there is still a few who have never spoken to me since July. These are people who I have known for years and years (Protestant, Torrens).
The Cliftonville Moravian Church has been there, for over a hundred years. In all the time I have known it I think only two small windows were broken. This year it cost us over £1,000 to have protection over the windows because we had eight broken windows in one week. We had to stop practicing in the church because when the light was on, they were breaking the windows (Protestant, Torrens).
It still hasn’t finished, in the sense that children have to go out to school. My grandson got hit, he goes to Carr’s Glen school, so he has to get from here to Carr’s Glen, up the Oldpark Road, right up, and he was coming down from school the week before and got hit (Protestant, Torrens).
This selection of quotes shows that Protestants from the Torrens community are held by a range of local Catholics to be responsible for the violence of last Summer. Given the relatively isolated location of Torrens, getting shopping, going to school or church or simply walking along the road are all routine activities that now require more consideration than previously, and thereby help to maintain tension at a high level.
Nevertheless some people are also thinking about what can be done to rebuild relationships in the future. A number of local people stressed the importance of community work, but they were also aware of how difficult and slow this will be.
The people who can do it is the people on the ground. The people here have to talk to the people up there. They are the only people who can work it out. You like to think you are hopeful, but it’s a long hard road. These things do not just come about over night. It’s going to take time. It takes time to build trust, that’s your first step, people have to learn to trust (Wyndham Street resident).
The community groups can only do a certain amount, they can hold meetings or communicate into the community or organise their kids or take them away or lay on specific things, you know, to try and defuse things that do come up, so there is a mechanism for trying to quell the violence of the youth. Certainly there is things that can be done (Community worker, Ardoyne).
It was recognised that there would have to be work done so that people from the differing communities would get to know each other personally, and that this would provide the foundations for more longer term understanding.
We have to get to know the people from the other side of the wall. Get to know their views, what they think of the people down here. You have to take steps forward and find out where our common ground is, where we can work together. Not to make two communities but one community, that can bond and think of the younger generation coming up. Because they are the ones that are suffering. I don’t want my child growing up in the same environment I came up in (Wyndham Street resident).
I think things have calmed down at the moment in Torrens. The action group are looking at what they can do to hold people in the area. One of the things that I have been saying is that we need to create relationships with the other communities around us. Westland is doing exactly the same thing - getting involved in the North Belfast Partnership, things like that. So I think people are starting to realise that they need to hold out the hand of friendship and try and put last summer on the back burner
It’s going to be very, very, difficult because there are still a lot of tensions - you can reduce tensions to a certain degree but you will get people who won’t be involved in community work and they will just continually argue - you know, ‘look what they done to us last summer’ and that’s always going to be the difficulty, trying to get through to those people (Unionist politician).
People were also aware that not everyone wanted to build relationships across the various peace lines that divide the area, and that the suspicion, mistrust and fear had been there long before last summer.
Overcoming this kind of behaviour will be a considerable task, one simple way of beginning the process was suggested to the Inquiry.
The way forward is to recognise both sides were wrong and that we need to start afresh (Unionist politician).
Unfortunately one feature that comes through in many of the submissions is that neither side likes to admit that they were wrong or that they were in any way to blame for what happened last summer.
While much of the attention during Drumcree week was focused on the events in the Torrens area, the violence, fear and intimidation quickly spread to other areas of north Belfast. The biggest single exodus of residents was in the Clifton Park Avenue area, the scene of street protests over the Tour of the North parade, and a prominent interface. One of the drivers of the removal vans described how the problem escalated and the scale of the evacuations he had to deal with.
Once the people in Torrens started putting the Catholics out of there it escalated then to Clifton Park Avenue and the Limestone Road. We were actually carrying fire extinguishers with us because of people being petrol bombed out.
Clifton Park Avenue was the biggest eviction that took place, there were five houses, there was I think three flats in each and those were completely cleared. Half of them was burnt out - and they’re still blocked up, on the same side there is a maisonette thing which is a brave size, they were completely cleared and every window was broken and then there was another four or five houses which were more or less cleared (Ardoyne, van driver).
The Tour of the North parade had led to an increase in communal tension in the Clifton Park Avenue area, but much of the anger had been directed towards the behaviour of the police over what was felt to be their heavy-handed approach to the protest, rather than towards the neighbouring Protestant communities. For some people this simmering resentment meant that people in the area were already on edge, and when controversy arose in July over the Drumcree church parade it quickly erupted into violence.
It created a lot if ill-feeling, a lot of hatred within a community that was relatively peaceful. We have our own troubles which are more social troubles, but whenever that Clifton Park Avenue incident happened it created tension within the community which brought the kids out onto the streets to riot on Clifton Park Avenue after Drumcree and after the marches, it led on to communities getting burned or people getting burned out of the flats in Clifton Park Avenue (Cliftonville resident).
Submissions from the Protestant side of the peace-line put a greater emphasis on the longer term problems in the area. One resident felt that tension between the two communities had been building from before the parade but claimed that this was the responsibility of some of the residents of Clifton Park Avenue who had deliberately tried to provoke antagonism.
Our community visitors were abused, they were called Orange whores and Orange sluts. I’m back now to the end of May, beginning of June, long before the parade went down Manor Street - shouted at them about your parade will not get down. Just drawing attention to the fact that there were Catholic’s living in the flats. I’m only talking about one or two people, but it also happened in the town when they seen them in the town. I know they were also shouting at kids over in our park which is just across the road (Lower Oldpark resident).
The same individual suggested that this provocation was the work of a few individuals and these were people who had only recently moved into the area. In contrast the people who had lived in the area for some time did not receive the same treatment.
My point is, having lived in this area and having worked in this area, there is Catholic people who have lived in Clifton Park Avenue in this end - which would be seen to be 90% Protestant - that have lived there for years and have reared their children and are still in there and nobody has bothered with them. But I think it was the new tenants in the new flats - it was an excuse you could say - the drawing attention to it by them one or two, and from what I hear they were actually using it Just as giro drops (Lower Oldpark resident).
For this woman the large number of rented properties encouraged a relatively transient population who had little interest in the area. This flexibility also meant that the population balance could easily be disrupted, as people moved out from the Protestant side of the peace line houses were either left derelict or were occupied by Catholics. This was recognised as a feature of the area but at times of increasing tension had the potential for trouble.
A local landlord recognised that some people were concerned by the changes that were taking place in the area, but he said something needed to be done and he claimed that the only alternative would be an increase in derelict properties, vandalism and trouble.
Where I lived in Clifton Park Avenue it was a bad area but I thought with careful management of the flats and bringing in decent tenants it would sort of work out OK. At no time did any of our tenants give any trouble in the street but inevitably they were put out when the marching business took place.
The Protestant people felt they were a threat to them. I didn‘t feel this. I felt it was a help to the area to get it populated, and shops and everything else would benefit from it. Other business people might come in and the area would lift up.
We felt that we had to take Catholic people into Clifton Park Avenue because the need was greater for Catholic people for homes than it is for Protestants and its not a question of when somebody comes along that you like the look of their face, you look at their needs and you look at your properly and if it suits them then you try to work with that (Landlord, Cliftonville area).
In retrospect the violent clashes on and around the peace-line at Clifton Park Avenue may have seemed predictable, especially given the trouble earlier in the year. However the violent clashes at the parade protest seem to have been regarded as a brief flare-up and, according to one resident of Clifton Park Avenue, they did not leave any apparent bad feelings between the two communities.
I don't think there was any real tension and I don‘t think anybody thought about what was going to happen at Drumcree. There wasn‘t a lot said about it or anything - everything was just very normal after the Tour of the North march in North Belfast. Everything was back to normal the next day (Clifton Park Avenue resident).
This individual was surprised by the violence that was to erupt during Drumcree week and which was to force him to leave his home.
It is not completely clear from the submissions that were made to us how exactly the trouble began in the area, or the full sequence of events during the week. It was suggested that some form of activity began on the Monday night although at this stage there were no direct confrontations.
A few people had their windows broken and marching up and down the road waving Union Jacks, and the fellows were out blocking off the street and doing stupid things (CPA resident).
Things escalated on the Tuesday. Some minor clashes in the streets during the day seem to have led on to more serious violence early in the evening and this in turn led to the first people being moved out.
There was a bit of rioting with the kids, just kids at the bottom of Clifton Park Avenue throwing stones across. The RUC and army patrol had come up Clifton Park Avenue and then about half an hour later most of the crowd from the other side of the peace line started to go on to the flats. The RUC were there within about ten to fifteen minutes. They forced the crowds back into Avoca Street (Cliftonville resident).
At some stage during Tuesday evening it was claimed that petrol bombs were thrown at some of the properties and this seems to have been the action which precipitated widescale evacuations from the area.
People were burnt out of their homes, some people were very lucky to get out of there. Very, very lucky. There was one fellow rescued by the fire brigade, he was on fire. Other families got out the back door; they couldn’t get out the front door and when they went out the back door they were being stoned (CPA resident).
The last time I seen evacuation like that was in 1969/70 and it just flashed right back that it was ‘69 all over again (Removal van driver).
One of the local landlords told us that all of his properties were evacuated at this time.
Our tenants were put onto the street regardless of their religion. And people moved back and got beaten when they went back and their cars were burnt after that as well.
He felt that the tenants were not targeted as individuals but rather they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He gave examples of two of his tenants who had suffered from the violence. The first was an older woman who had recently moved back to Belfast from Canada.
She chose the flat in Clifton Park, it was a lovely flat, it was just done up, new carpet, new furniture, the lot. She was just getting settled in when this thing took place. Now she had to run for her life, she was ver); very scared. Nobody knew she was in the house When the riot was taking place in the street. But she was a very scared lady
The second tenant was a younger woman.
One girl in a flat she had been there over three years, she held down a good job in the town, she was a very good tenant. That wee girl was on holiday When she came back her Place was wrecked (Landlord, Cliftonville area).
This man has eighteen flats in the Avenue and has lived in the road for many years. He was forced out of his own home and his children were forced to leave their flats in the area and move to another part of the city. Although his properties were not extensively damaged, they have remained empty and boarded up since July. He fears that by the time compensation is agreed more substantial damage will have occurred and he will not receive enough money to refurbish his flats.
The residents in Clifton Park Avenue bore the brunt of the violence during Drumcree week but the fear and tension spread to neighbouring streets. A number of Protestant families in the Avoca Street area decided to move at this time.
At the minute we have about sixty voids and I would say that maybe ten or fifteen of them would have been caused with people moving after July.
I think for a lot of them it was an excuse - 'I felt threatened there, I’m scared to let my kids out or whatever’ - I think an awful lot of them made what happened an excuse and they moved back to the Shankill estate or the far side of the Shankill or Crumlin Road (Lower Oldpark resident).
One resident of Clifton Park Avenue described his experiences during Drumcree week and the events that led to his own departure from the street in more detail.
The trouble first happened on 9 July when the fiats across from me were petrol bombed. I didn‘t stay in the flat on the Tuesday night because of the tension that was going on. I didn‘t feel safe because I was living in a mixed area. Prior to that I did feel safe, I didn‘t have any problems with anybody walking up and down the street.
On the Thursday, 11 July, my neighbour was threatened by gunmen in the hall. They got into the house and I heard the shouting and tore out of the flat and came down the stairs and seen masked men with guns. I actually ran back up the stairs and one of them came after me part of the way but I got back into my flat.
We were intimidated, we were told to get out. When I was running up the stairs they shouted, ‘There’ll be no fenian bastards living round here. We’ll shoot you' and stuff like that. We actually stayed through the trouble but we were out and talking, myself and my neighbour; talking about it in the morning.
The trouble and threats had begun on the Tuesday and, according to other submissions many people moved out almost straight away, but this man and his neighbour did not move immediately. They were hoping that things would blow over and that they would be able to stay, or at least return after a period. But in the end, fearful of their personal safety, moving became the only option.
I really didn't want to move out because it was my home, and I enjoyed living round there. I would have actually stayed, not in the flat, maybe in friends or my parents house maybe until it all blew over but I thought if I don’t get my stuff out I’m going to come back and the fiat’s going to be burnt and I’m going to lose everything so I thought it was better to move out - it was very, very nerve wracking.
We moved out on 11 July, the 9th was a Tuesday, we moved out on 11 July the Thursday at 7pm at night. All our stuff was taken up to Ardoyne and put in storage.
While it was clear to this resident that they were being threatened and intimidated by Protestants, there was a reluctance to accuse any of his immediate neighbours of being a party to the trouble.
I would say the majority of people at the back of that there were disgusted at what happened and I would say the majority people who started the trouble weren’t even from round there because there is not a lot of older people who live round there, it’s very, very young families from round in the Protestant part of Clifton Park Avenue. I think a lot of the people who started the trouble were maybe from Crumlin Road and the Shankill or somewhere like that, because I didn’t know any of their faces.
Submissions from the Protestant community also expressed their concern at what happened but tended to blame ‘kids’ rather than outsiders.
Genuine people genuinely think it’s crazy what happened there is out of hand or whatever But again I think people feel threatened within their own communities by people - I’m sure this is happening on both sides - it is the people that live within these communities that are threatened by these people. I think the general feeling is that what happened was ridiculous and it was the kids were allowed to run rampant (Lower Oldpark resident).
Within this statement there is an unspoken and yet implicit suggestion that this trouble should have been dealt with more rapidly or severely. Although there was no overt criticism of the police from the Protestant side, people who were forced to move were critical of the inactivity of the police rather than their neighbours. It was claimed the RUC did little to protect or aid residents during the trouble. When this man and his neighbour had finally decided that they should move out, offers of help from the police were dismissed.
The Police came to the door; there was four policemen, and they said they would do everything in their power to protect us and get us moved out. We just sort of looked at them 'We don’t want yous here’ or something like that. Sinn Féin came down in their vans and there was about 300 of them in about six or seven vans and the policemen just walked away (CPA resident).
This attitude was in part a response to the way this individual felt about the RUC in general - ‘they don’t do nothing, they’re a waste of space, over the years the police have done nothing for the nationalist community’, but in part it was also a response to the way in which he felt that his attitudes had been justified by the way in which the police reacted to current violence. As in many other areas nationalists in the Cliftonville area were critical of the way the security forces responded to the crisis. In particular it was felt that the police did not intervene enough nor try to nip the trouble in the bud and this allowed things to get out of control.
If the police had sorted it out they could have stopped the trouble but they didn‘t. They let it go on and on and on and let it deteriorate. The police just stood there and let it happen and then they eventually moved in when it had calmed down a wee bit. Where’s the policing in that? They get paid for doing a job and they’re not doing it. Any other job and you would be sacked.
And the night of the petrol bombings, I mean, the police seen it happening, nothing was done. Nothing was going to stop these people petrol bombing - I think they bombed maybe six or seven houses, yet there is an army camp there and they have probably the best set of closed circuit TVs around (CPA resident).
One local landlord was also critical of the police and in particular he suggested that things might not have been so bad if the community policing had been kept in place.
We were totally let down by the police. They never took it serious and we didn't ‘t believe it was in their best interest to bring peace to our streets because that would have ended the overtime.
The two police officers that were helpful to our area, the community police, they were moved out of the area at the time. So those people that wrecked our property was unknown to the police on the scene and out of fifty families being moved out of our street and two hundred people involved in putting them out there wasn’t one arrest. That is very strange.
A further part of the criticism of the police was the feeling that they were responding in a partial manner that if it had been nationalists on the streets then the police would have acted tougher and quicker.
But yet they stood by - they fired, like I don’t know, was it a couple of plastic baton rounds, yet they fired five thousand that day in Northern Ireland at nationalist people. Yet the Protestants caused more damage and more destruction - that just shows you again what the police are like, that the police do nothing.
At the end of the day you need a proper police force and if the police force is not going to stand up to everybody and I don’t care who it is, everybody if people are starting trouble, the police force go in and stop it and if they were doing it from day one, a lot of it wouldn't have happened (CPA Resident).
These accusations against the RUC are in part a response to this person’s own experiences of last summer and in part a response to events elsewhere that were seen on the television. While they may be partial and personalised they are nevertheless similar to many other stories which recount the events of the summer of 1996 from people who feel that the police should have been swifter to act against violence and intimidation. The main assertion of this individual is that the police simply did not do the job that they are expected to do.
However these reactions do not exist in a vacuum. They are added to more deeply held concerns about the bias within the police force, and which were widely expressed from within the nationalist community. And while it was acknowledged that some attempts had been made to try to address these concerns it was also clear that the events of last summer had completely undermined this work. These feelings were expressed by one community activist.
The police had tried to make in-roads back into the community. They were able to sit with some of the community groups and we were able to talk with them. But that is the difference now. It’s just totally gone. They just totally wrecked that whole system that they had built up and the confidence that they built within the community. It is completely gone (Cliftonville resident).
The consequence of these events can be addressed on two levels. The impact on an individual who is forced to move and the impact on the community itself. As mentioned above, one landlord who made a submission to the Inquiry is in a kind of limbo and is unclear as to where his future lies.
At the minute my properties are empty. They need fixed. I need compensation to fix them. It’s going to be two years maybe before I get compensation. By that time the properties will be wrecked and the grant will be lost.
I don’t know where we go from here or how we try to put it right. I have lost nearly all my life’s work in that area. 1 stand now to have to make a decision whether I walk away or whether I go back and fix it up. I can‘t fix it without money and I’m entitled to the money but the delay in getting the money will put me out of business.
For the tenant who was forced to move out the problem was addressed more immediately.
We went down to the Housing Executive and told them what had happened. They gave us accommodation in the Lansdowne. We only got staying in hotels about seven weeks, we got moved about. I was lucky, I was the first one to get another flat. I was home in seven weeks.
This period of living in hotels was far from pleasant
A hotel is only somewhere where you can get your breakfast, sleep and have a wash, it’s not a home, you can’t sit in your room all the time. It’s a very, very hard environment to live in. So it was very, very hard with kids, it was an awful lot of strain on families.
Getting rehoused quickly meant visiting the Housing Executive office every day, visiting every housing association and looking for empty houses. It also meant being prepared to take a flat anywhere in the city, or rather anywhere he felt safe which meant moving into a Catholic area. He was offered his old flat back in Clifton Park Avenue
We were offered to move back, we were offered free rent for six months and £800. I said you couldn’t give me £1 million.
However the houses in Clifton Park Avenue remain empty and the area has taken on the appearance of a no-man’s land.
Clifton Park Avenue is a real border; because it was always a Protestant area, you’re getting very close to the Shankill living there and maybe the Protestants are thinking the Catholics are getting closer.
But where does it stop? It creates more empty houses - that place is so dead now around there. There’s nobody living in the street. Do you know where we lived, there’s nobody there and it’s mad. There’s some beautiful houses still there - what a waste (CPA resident).
While people were aware of the problems in the area and were aware that something needed to be done to improve things they were also suspicious of plans being drawn up over their heads and of being presented with a ‘fait accompli’. One example given was the peace-wall at Manor Street. Residents acknowledged that there were often tensions in the area during the marching season, and there had been more violent clashes during the mid- 1980s, but they claimed the wall had been built without any real consultation and this resulted in negative effects on community relations and attempts to redevelop the area.
I think the wall created a problem because the people in this area would say that they weren’t considered when negotiations for the plans for the wall actually developed. The first they heard about it was when the digger arrived to start - I think that created an awful lot of problems. It created the problem because we didn’t want it. It made them become more aware - we weren’t given a say there, so if something is going to happen to Clifton Park Avenue we have to make ourselves heard, to have a say or are we going to be walked on again. I think that is the general feeling too for people (Lower Oldpark resident).
In Manor Street there was £0.5m of public sector housing destroyed within two weeks of the troubles in Manor Street in 1986. Then they erected the big wall - so there was millions of £s of public sector money being spent in creating an abyss, a wall, a divide. The Manor Street / Cliftonville community had been devastated. In the early ‘80s it was going through redevelopment, it was a mixed community, there was loads of derelict houses, the community had to rebuild (Manor Street resident).
The feeling from the Protestant community is both that their areas were being neglected: that houses are allowed to remain empty, until they become vandalised and then derelict, and at the same time that local residents are left out of planning discussions. Both of these factors fuel concerns that plans are being made to squeeze them out of these areas.
At the minute there is talk that people have seen plans - the New Lodge have proposed three hundred new dwellings which would be seen as for Catholics and I think that people round here have problems, I think there would be a lot of objections. I don’t know what form that would take but certainly I know that there are proposals for public meetings to take place.
The Lower Oldpark is right at the edge - we would come in under North Belfast, we can come in under the Shankill Partnership. We are right on the edge of the Crumlin Road and I think a lot of people see it if the Catholic community get the far side of Clifton Park Avenue that the peace line will move from Roe Street to Agnes Street. Now you are maybe talking about a lot of years on but I think that is something that they already are identifying with and if they want the area to continue and they want people to come in and bring jobs in or bring shops in that they have to get their act together as a community, as a whole (Lower Oldpark resident).
However there have been positive responses to the perceived decline in the area, the exclusion of local people from the decision making process and the events of last summer.
I think now most people in this area are getting it together We are looking at things like the policing, the housing, we want shops and we are going to demand to get people back into this area. I think maybe the only thing about what happened in July is that it helped people become more aware of what was happening in their own communities (Lower Oldpark resident).
One of the community activists from the nationalist side also believed that positive things could come from the events of last summer.
It made it quite aware for us that other communities have sensitivities, other communities have needs and have fears. We are quite aware of those fears and that troubles do exist between the communities. The two communities have the same problems. But it is how the communication starts. It starts slowly and just matures I think, that’s what I have tried to instill in our group. You can’t just jump in with your two feet and say you want this and want that and have plans. You talk slowly and talk about issues that are relevant and throw ideas on the table eventually and let them come back, feedback, take their ideas and what they can do you for and what we can do for them. To me that’s the way forward.
Our attitude as a group has always been that our community needs to develop first before you can talk to other communities because what is the point in talking if you are not developed enough yourself The stage where our community are at now, they are nearly at that stage where you can talk now and that’s why the communications network has started. That’s why they have started to create the links to see - because we are so divided.
We have got all sorts of money community relations things, you know, but you had to develop - our objective was to develop our own community establish our own community groups, address the housing, address the mother and toddlers, address the old age pensioners, address the needs within your own community before you can go across and talk about issues across the other side.
While the ongoing constructive work within one’s own community and the building of tentative links with neighbouring communities were positive signs, there was also a concern for the implications for individuals if the security situation deteriorated.
There was an awareness that individuals who were identified as community representatives were making themselves conspicuous and therefore potential targets.
You have to talk to the right people and the problem with some of the community groups, and I have found this and my fear is when we talk with those type of people, again are you setting yourself up. You are putting your name forward, you are putting your name as a community representative here. You are talking to people, maybe with paramilitary’ connections, and )‘oar name is there. If trouble breaks out, your name is top of the list.
This fear is not just a hypothetical concern but rather is one that is rooted in the experiences of living in North Belfast during the Troubles and an awareness of the sectarian fragmentation of the area which makes it unlike any other part of Northern Ireland.
The problem is unique, it's a Bosnia situation. You have so many interfaces and there are so many points where violence could easily occur It only takes a small incident to escalate violence. And then if sectarianism starts again, what happens? If the loyalist ceasefire breaks down, where do the people get slaughtered - in the Cliftonville Road and lower Cliftonville. In our community. This is where people died, this last twenty five years. There was more people killed in North Belfast than any other part of Northern Ireland - through the Butchers, everything. It’s a killing field. And that’s what will happen if another Drumcree happens, if the Provisionals continue on at their campaign, if the loyalists break their ceasefire - the first place they will hit will be North Belfast (Cliftonville resident).
Another perspective from the unionist community recognised many of these concerns but also tried to suggests some positive strategies.
I think it would be very, very dangerous just to allow elected representatives to meet because there is very few of them can agree and I think that we need more of a participative democracy than a representative democracy The more people we involve the better and the more ideas are thrown up - all right, it’s a bit harder to reach agreement probably when there is more people involved - but! think that if we leave it to one or two politicians, they’ll all have a vested interest and that vested interest is in getting votes. They usually lead from the back rather than from the front. They are afraid to take chances. I think community people can take more risks because they have nothing to lose and! think quite a lot of them have a lot to offer in terms of the issues that we are all struggling with. I would put a lot of value in allowing communities to talk. I think it is important that we don't give elected representatives more power than they deserve (Unionist Politician).
The need to engage in some form of dialogue, both within single communities and also between communities and across boundaries was widely recognised as being a key element in any attempt to begin to rebuild trust, confidence and wider relationships. Most people also acknowledged that this would not be easy and would not be done quickly. Nevertheless it was felt to be a process that needed to be started sooner rather than later. The last quotation above is significant because it highlights a number of facets of this process:
First the need for as wide a range of people as possible to involve themselves in the dialogue, so that it is not just left to elected representatives or other 'leaders’.
Second the need for a wide range of ideas to be thrown into the debate.
Third to acknowledge that the process will be complicated and difficult.
And fourth that people will need to take risks if they want to avoid further summers like that of 1996.
These points provide only the barest of frameworks for a way forward but they are worth dwelling on at this stage because they resonate with similar statements made by many other people to the Inquiry. While much of this report is concerned with the events of 1996, it is important to note that many people in many communities in North Belfast are also looking to the future. Some look in trepidation, but some also see an opportunity.
Disturbances in the Whitewell Road area started on the evening of Tuesday 9 July when Protestant residents from the White City area blocked the Whitewell Road. The submissions from the two communities about the events in this area are quite distinct. From the Catholic side we were told very personal stories about how individual families had been threatened and intimidated and forced to leave their homes. From the Protestant side we heard a more general view of longer term issues and more general concerns that were affecting the community.
We begin by relating how a number of residents remembered the week unfolding. This involves quite detailed retelling of traumatic and violent events. The first story is that of a family who were living on the Whitewell Road.
On 9 July 1996 about twenty or thirty people, mainly women and children from White City, stood across the Whitewell Road at the bottom of Gunnel Hill, effective1y blocking the main road. This was from about 6pm. Children, some in their early teens, began marching up and down the main road with flags and drums.
Someone, who I didn‘t see, threw a rock through our front room window. At once I telephoned Greencastle Barracks and reported this to the police. The reply from the police was 'We’ll try and send someone there’.
About fifteen minutes later six men came down the main road and dragged a skip from outside the house next door across the road as a barricade. I look up the Whitewell Road and noticed another crowd of people across the main road. I realised at once we were effectively blocked in with no way out. I became very concerned about this and phoned the police again. The answer I received was ‘If we go up to you it would probably draw more attention to you so just leave it for a while and it might quiet down’. I did feel more assured at this reply.
For a few hours things seemed to quieten down and during this time the police phoned to check that the family were OK. However shortly after this the man saw what he describes as ‘a group of older men looking and pointing to his house’. This was done in a manner which caused him to worry. He phoned the RUC again but this time the reply was not so reassuring.
They told me that they would have trouble getting into us but if it got serious to ring them at once. This reply really frightened me and! began to nail up our front door and the downstairs windows. 1 used planks and steel bed irons to barricade ourselves in.
Once again things seemed to go quiet for a while.
About 1am we were having a cup of tea when we heard glass smashing and a loud banging against our front door We heard our front windows being smashed through. My son came running downstairs shouting a rock has come through the windows upstairs and hit me on the chest’, and our child woke up screaming uncontrollably I immediately took my wife and child out our back door into the garden and pushed both of them through our hedge to the next door garden. We knew the neighbours and I thought if I got them to there they might be safer.
I returned to our house. The mob outside was shouting ‘We’ll kill you fenian bastards when we get in’. I phoned 999 and told the police we were under full attack but I dropped the open phone when I saw the door starting to splinter My son and I moved out to the back yard and just waited there to defend ourselves if we could. I thought it was the last minutes of our lives. Suddenly the noise stopped and I looked over our yard wall and saw bright lights shining on the house. I realised it was the police. My son and I went into the front garden and shouted to the police who we were I looked down the Whitewell Road and saw a large mob of people across the road with police in front of them. The mob was shouting and cheering.
He then went around the back to get his wife and daughter from the neighbours house.
I didn’t want to draw any attention to my neighbours by using the front of the houses My daughter was still crying and screaming. My wife was crying and a policeman helped my daughter and tried to console her. Someone in the mob shouted ‘Give us another scream you wee fenian bitch’.
The police told us they couldn’t guarantee our protection and we would be better to leave. We gathered up a few belongings, my wife’s car was in the driveway, the windows were all smashed and someone had tried to set fire to the rear seats, however; the car was still mobile. As we were leaving the mob was shouting and laughing ‘Good riddance to you fenian bastards’. The police escorted us up the Whitewell Road to a relative’s house. On our way up the road I noticed the army at the M2 bridge area and I wondered why they didn’t come sooner to protect us.
The next morning he went back to his house to assess the damage and see what other belongings might be retrieved
We realised that during the night someone had lobbed a petrol bomb through our bathroom window. The property had been badly damaged, the whole of the roof space had been gutted and there was water damage throughout.
Damage was ongoing for about another two weeks until the NIHE removed the wood sheeting and replaced it with steel. My garage/workshed was wrecked, the oil tank stolen along with utility items. The property was a total mess. The fireplace was even stolen from our living room. Up to now no one has been charged with any of these offences. It’s surprising as the army and police had been patrolling our area for weeks after the event. I went to the police on several occasions to complain. Although they sympathised they told me they ‘couldn’t guarantee protection of property’.
After they were forced to leave their home they were faced with the problem of finding new accommodation. Initially they were found a room in a hotel but this was only temporary, and marked the beginning of a period of uncertainty, being moved from one place to another.
We were put in a local hotel, then sent to another downtown hotel, then we had to move again to a bed and breakfast supplied by the Housing Executive. We found it totally unsuitable - dirty beds and bedding, unkept kitchen and toilet facilities and we returned to the hotel. The Housing Executive told us the house had been cleaned up and new bedding supplied and if we didn’t accept this offer we could be out oil the street. Our second inspection of the house found it to be temporarily satisfactory.
It is now December. We have been living in hotel rooms and bed and breakfast hostels for twenty two weeks altogether; and still no prospects of a house from the NIHE. At present we are sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities with ten other people. We lived with other intimidated families who mostly have been rehoused with the exception of ourselves. We have had offers of housing but totally unacceptable for our requirements and safety.
The events of July were truly horrific, but they were only the beginning of a complete upheaval in the life of this family. Living in temporary and crowded accommodation made it difficult to resume work, there were problems in sorting out both their insurance claims and their mortgage on a property that had dropped considerably in value.
My wife and I are out of work since 10 July and both of us were in full-time employment. My child and ourselves have been severely traumatised by the whole series of events. I have been attending counselling on a regular basis. Both my wife and I are on medication for our nerves and the stress we have endured.
Despite an initial optimism when they had moved back to Northern Ireland a few years ago, they felt that they had few options left open to them.
What won’t go out of my head is the sound of people laughing and cheering at my child’s agony. I didn’t think the human being could sink so low. Because of our plight and the total failure of the system under which we live to protect us, we are making plans to move away from this country.
Unfortunately this family were not the only ones living on the Whitewell Road to suffer in the violence, the house of a near neighbour was also destroyed and the family forced to move out. Another neighbour was also caught up in the turmoil but decided to remain.
On the Tuesday the fellow that had just moved in, he had a skip outside his house and he was fitting a new working kitchen and when they decided to block the Whitewell Road they took his skip and pulled it down the road. At Gunnel Hill they blocked us in and above us at the Throne Hospital they blocked us in, they left the four Catholic families inside. They put the police and the army on the other side of the barricade to stop the people from Green castle coining up and to stop the Lon glands people from coming down.
On Wednesday, 10 July 1996, about 2am, this crowd came onto the Whitewell Road, they played drums at us and then the crowd suddenly pulled up these scarfs over their nose and made a dive over my gate. I thought they were actually coming into my house, but they went up the footpath and they went in with iron bars amid all sorts of sledges and stuff to go in and attack my neighbour. They broke his windows and they called him a fenian bastard and they were going to kill him. He had to come over three hedges to bring his wife into my house and bring her child with her.
The attack on his neighbours house then seemed to intensify into an all out assault.
They were battering the door and battering the frame down, there was on 1y him and his son and he was screaming into the phone and I was screaming into my phone to try and bring the police but all the time his house was getting wrecked and they backed out into the yard and I think all they had was a shovel each and the mob was actually coming over the yard wall whenever the police arrived. It was so close. I think another ten or fifteen minutes and they would have been dead. That’s how bad it was.
Eventually the police arrived and they told him that he would have to leave. When they came out onto the road, his car was already smashed, but they got them into the car and the mob then gave a big cheer ‘good riddance to fenian scum’, and they were taken away.
After the family were taken to safety the police placed a Land Rover in his front drive to try to protect the property. But this was inadequate as the attackers returned via the back of the house.
They came over the back of our garden, with petrol bombs and run up his fuel store roof and petrol bombed his house from the top, right into the landing. It was only when the petrol bombs were going that the police who were sitting in the van in the driveway were aware of what was happening. The house was then on fire. The fire brigade came and put the fire out, but when they went away it started up again. The whole top of the house was burned.
This man had lived on the Whitewell Road for some considerable time and had always had good relationships with his Protestant neighbours. He was not personally threatened during Drumcree week but he says he found the episode extremely frightening.
We always had good relationships with them. During the workers strike and things like that we were able to go up among those people and get our food and stuff like that. But this Drumcree situation was entirely different.
There have always been Catholic families there and everybody getting on well with each other We never had any trouble with the White City people. But they were able to come down and block the main road which never happened before, they came down every night and they blocked us in.
We have been there a long time and lam well known up there. But what we got with the crowd outside and this singing and music and this roaring that was going on until 3 o’clock every morning was the most horrifying thing ever I heard.
He feels that if the police had remained between the two barriers on the Whitewell Road through the Tuesday night the two houses would not have been destroyed and the families would not have been driven out of the area.
When the police came, any time they did come, they were very friendly with us, but the police and the army stayed on the outside of the barricades, nobody stayed inside with us. They told me straight: ‘We don‘t have people to protect you’.
I asked for the police to come into the middle but they said we don’t have anybody to stay with you. We will come to you if you tell us you are in danger but we don ‘t have any policemen to stay with you.
Like many other submissions he feels that less protection was offered to Catholic residents at the beginning of the week than to Protestant areas later on.
A funny thing about it was that when the siege of Drumcree was lifted, within an hour we had two army jeeps and a Land Rover of police outside our house and I went out to this British soldier and I asked him 'What are you doing here’. He said ‘We are here to protect the White City people’. But I said 'Those people have been attacking us’. He said ‘Yes I know that but we don’t want anything to happen to them’.
However he does acknowledge some of the concerns of the local Protestant community, and some of the pressures and more explicit threats that could be applied to the police.
The White City people would tell you that they closed the Whitewell Road off to stop the Greencastle people coming up to help us and they barricaded the top to stop the Longlands people and Mill Road people coming down to help us. In the middle of all this, the police came down with two Land Rovers and squeaked the brakes and got out with their shields and made a big show. They went across the Whitewell Road ready to charge these people, to take them off the Whitewell Road. People came out of this crowd and they spoke to the police. I understand that they told the Police to watch who they were, that they knew who they were and to watch what they Were doing before they did anything.
Both residents of the Whitewell Road talked of a sense of uncertainty about their security and a fear that the police would be unable to protect them if the situation got out of control.
About four or five houses up from me we have a telephone pole and about a dozen wires come in a may-pole rotation into the different houses. I said to the police look, if somebody takes an axe and cuts that one wire, we don’t have any way of contacting you’. I said could you lend me one of those mobile phones. He said ‘We can’t get one for ourselves, how can we give you one’. They said we know who you are, we know where you are and we have you in a slot and you don’t have to tell us any more information about it, if you ring and tell us you are in absolute danger we will stop whatever we are doing and will head for you. That is the best we can do.
I said to the police whenever this all happened, do you want us to leave, to get out of these houses. They said we can’t stop you leaving but if you leave your houses will be burned within an hour and that the only way you will hold onto your house and onto what you have is to stay in it. He said they would continue to try and help us as much as they could. So that is why we decided to try to stick it out.
They were able to sit out the worst of the violence. After the Drumcree parade was allowed along the Garvaghy Road there were no further protests. And although there have been no further disturbances since July, he felt that his relationships with his neighbours will never be the same.
During the different strikes and things like that, all those people there were out objecting to the government doing this and the government’s not doing that but we were able to mingle with the people of that area and we were never at any stage threatened. We got our bread and our milk and whatever it was during the time of the siege and stuff like that, but this Drumcree thing was entirely different. This was an attack on people and to live what we came through is something that I will never forget. My wife was terrified. We were never subjected before and at any time during those few days anything could have happened.
We also took submissions from Catholic families in the nearby Graymount area, who had experienced similar attacks and violence to those people on Whitewell. They also talk of mob attacks on homes and were critical of the lack of protection they were given by the security forces.
On 10 July 1 had two petrol bombs threw at my house. It was eight o’clock in the evening, it was bright like so it was. Before that, there was other people got the petrol bombs threw at them, and the next night there was another person got petrol bombed. What I couldn’t understand was why the RUC weren’t in the area at the time. There was at least seven or eight that was burned out that time.
He was also surprised that the Protestant residents were able to block the roads in the area so easily.
On the top of the Whitewell Road at the White City there, they had a barricade up every night, they pulled a skip out on the road, blocked all the traffic, pulled it to the side in the day pulled it back out again at night. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t moved.
The violence was more extensive during Drumcree week but it was not the first time that this man had suffered abuse by his neighbours.
We weren’t just getting it at the Twelfth we were getting it all through the year We were getting abuse and bottles threw over the wall, the kids were getting slagged off, the wife was getting slagged off
He acknowledged that these personal attacks were a relatively recent problem, for although the family had lived in the area for six years this petty harassment had only begun in the past two years.
It was after the first siege that we started getting abuse. The four years before that everything was all right in the area. It’s only since the siege when it started - Get out you Catholics this and that’ you know and then the bottles, the bricks - it really got worse coming up to July.
Fortunately the night their house was petrol bombed he and his family were not in their home.
That night I brought the kids round to her mothers house about 5.30 pm, the wife stayed in the ho use just to tidy up and do a bit of ironing. She said she would meet me round there.
She left the house at about 7.45. It was about eight o’clock they petrol bombed it. She just came round and told me they petrol bombed it. I just went round and had a look, walked away and that was it. Me and the wife went around about six o’clock that morning. Started packing stuff up.
It wasn’t severely damaged. One of the petrol bombs hit the window, it ignited but it didn’t do any damage, only glass damage in the house. The wife was pregnant at the time and she was well shook up, still is shook up.
Their house was not badly damaged by the petrol bomb attack but it was clearly unsafe for them to remain in the area. They had to face the problem of moving all their possessions and finding another place to live.
I rang the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and told them what happened, they said they couldn’t get the lorries out to get my stuff because they wouldn’t come into the area. So what I done was to go to the CDC. They came down with vans and helped me move.
As there were no immediate offers of another house, he decided to act on his own initiative and squat in an empty Housing Executive house.
I took the shutters down of a house round on the Whitewell and moved my stuff in. At that time nobody else was giving a damn about what was happening anyway.
His decision to squat in a house led to a prolonged and complicated dispute with the NIHE, but this was eventually resolved and the family were allocated a new home.
With the passage of time he felt able to describe the events of last summer in a fairly matter-of-fact way, however the family continued to experience difficulties with their children (aged 8 and 9) who were badly affected by their experiences. Not only had they lost their home but their school had also suffered arson attacks during the summer.
My kids have turned, they are writing on the walls in the house I’m in now, they are just writing on the walls ‘White City - Burn, IRA, and everything’. And my kids were never like that. Never They weren’t brought up like that. Now it’s green and white; red, white and blue to them now. They don’t like Protestants now, my kids have turned very bitter; for the age of them like.
His main criticism focused on two themes, first the lack of protection offered to Catholic residents in mixed areas and second the contrasting protection they were able to offer Protestants later in the week and in the months that followed.
I’m not biased against the RUC or nothing but I thought they should have been in the area, after one being petrol bombed they knew what was going on in the area. They should at least have been patrolling it.
When I went down to give my statement to the police about being petrol bombed, a detective said to me they hadn’t got the manpower But on the Twelfth day there is fifteen jeeps on the Whitewell Road escorting the Orangemen up to the Orange Hall. The RUC didn’t do enough around the area to protect the Catholic people from getting burned out.
They stayed after the night there was somebody getting petrol bombed. After the 12th night they were there for near three months every night. And to me that wasn’t to protect the Catholics, it was to protect the Protestant people in case of retaliation. They were there every night for three mouths. And up at White City, every night they were there. But when the Catholics were getting burned out they weren’t there, which I can’t understand at all.
Another submission recounted the experiences of a Catholic woman and her family who had lived in the Graymount area for forty years. They had been happy to remain in the area because they wanted to live in a mixed community.
The men marching round doesn‘t bother me. Our children went out and joined in on the Eleventh night. In the street I live in now all our neighbours had a bonfire and we all went out together and the children got round it and we had a tea round it. We were all invited.
She recalls that her neighbours were always ready to help out with the children whenever they could.
On the morning my daughter made her First Communion, the people in the area all came out with gifts for her and they all helped. if I had to go to church some morning it was very wet a few of my neighbours would have knocked the door and said ‘The children are very young, I’ll mind them and you go on ahead’. That’s the sort of neighbours I had when I went there, really decent, nice people.
The beginning of the troubles brought some changes but even these were felt to be only temporary disruptions.
When the troubles started at first there was a bit of bother then. You had it off and on. But there wasn’t the same hatred then, once the Twelfth season was over the children were friends again. My children were always in a mixed Scout Group, even my daughter was in it. That’s why I went to that area, because that’s the way I wanted them to grow up because that’s the way we were reared.
But as with the previous account, the woman noted that more serious changes had taken place in the last couple of years.
The last two years had got really bad, this year I sensed an awful atmosphere and an awful bitterness. There were wee incidents, name calling, tyres let down, stuff like that. Scrapes along the side of your car That sort of thing, nothing you could prove or put your finger on or name anyone. Just incidents all building up and then when this July came along it sort of exploded.
They were not directly affected by events at first, although they were aware of the growing tension.
They were down every night stopping traffic and then they decided to take all these branches and build barricades around the streets. There are three streets: the Parade, the Drive and the Park. They barricaded those three and they also barricaded the bottom of Gray’s Lane as well. So anybOdy who had to come in had to come up Graymount Road. There was crowds of them hanging around corners, looking at you and taunting you as you went passed. The atmosphere was very bad.
They were caught up in events by chance when a neighbour was attacked and they went to see if they could help. The woman’s daughter-in-law tells the story.
We seen them petrol bombing the lady across the street. Of course, we went out to help. I called the police and fire brigade and my husband went to see the lady across the road.
The activity also brought Protestant residents out onto the street and the family soon became the target themselves. And events seemed to rapidly spiral out of control.
They all came in with drink on them - they were having parties in their houses - so they all came out and started gathering around the front gate and they got my husband and started to push and shove him. They actually got up the hall and cornered him and tried to get him into the kitchen until I jumped in front of them and I edged them out.
Once I got them out the front gate I locked the big front gate. My husband phoned for his mother and sister and brother-in-law to come round and stay with us, to give us moral support and that seemed to inflame them more. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger; they started screaming abuse ‘We’ll burn you, we’ll get you, we'll get you, we’ll burn you’. At one stage it was getting very nasty, we went in and closed the door and sat in the kitchen and the next thing we heard a brick being thrown. It hit the woodwork on the window and bounced off.
The police came, but within two seconds they were called out to somewhere else and that left us sort of vulnerable and there was a mob milling outside. I seen the mob coming from Shore Crescent, with baseball bats and they came up to the door: ‘What the f..s going on here and they started beating at the front but they couldn’t get in. Then they started on my husband’s car - smashed it up and just then the riot police came and they stayed for the rest of the night.
Next morning we got our bundles and bags of clothes and what we could still take with us round to my mother-in-law’s house. We stayed there until the Housing Executive took our furniture out, the police came round and gave us protection. We Were getting our furniture out and even then they were running up and down, the ones that had the petrol bombs in the first place. They were running up and down on bicycles shouting ‘Cheerio, cheerio’ and the usual taunts and stuff like that.
This story illustrates something of the haphazard and random nature of the events during Drumcree week. The family were not the initial victims of the violence, but were trying to help a neighbour. However they quickly became the targets in the anger and confusion.
In each of these four accounts the spark that led to the victims being identified and the violence escalating is not completely clear. The only common feature is that each of the families forced to leave were Catholics living in a mixed area, but not all Catholic households were attacked. On the Whitewell Road two houses owned by Catholics were targeted and two were left alone. One of the residents felt that his long residence in the area gave him some status and had offered him some protection. But long standing residence failed to protect the family in Graymount.
The response of these residents was confusion and bewilderment. Their recurrent questions - Why had their neighbours picked on them? Why had they been attacked? Why had they been forced to leave their homes? - remained unanswered.
Throughout the enquiry the accounts of what happened varied greatly from one community to another. We received a submission from a group of residents and community activists from the Protestant community in Whitewell and Graymount areas who offered us their perspectives on what had happened during the summer and why.
While they initially expressed surprise at the response they also suggested that this indicated the depth of feeling within the community, and they felt that the problems were rooted far deeper than the recent events at Drumcree.
The summer was a complete shock for everybody at this end of the road. We thought after two years of the peace that we were getting somewhere but violence erupted basically overnight. One of the things that surprised us in such a way that it was really middle of the road people came out very, very strongly people who wouldn’t have got involved in community development projects such as we were doing at the time.
It's not fundamentally about Drumcree but more about religious freedom, civil rights. Once again Protestants were being told they couldn‘t walk the streets and the Protestant identity was being attacked. Not only from Nationalists, but very much so from police.
Now Drumcree sort of brought it to a head for the Protestants and an incident - -there was a Roman Catholic school burnt. A community activist came to me, a Catholic, and says ‘What about the school being burned?’ I said 'It’s not right’. He says 'Not right, we are really annoyed up here’. I said ‘Really annoyed? How do you think we have been feeling for the last two years when you have burnt our churches. The nationalist youth up there have been burning our churches or Orange Halls and putting people out. You get a school burnt and you are annoyed’.
The Protestant people at this end of the road, that’s lower North Belfast from Duncairn to the Whitewell and White City, are feeling completely isolated. Once again getting left on their own, being attacked through the media, being attacked by nationalist groups as being totally sectarian, being attacked by the RUC, both physically and mentally.
These statements highlight some of the broader issues that this submission raised: the nature of the protests, feeling challenged and threatened by both Catholics and the police, and feeling that changes that the Protestant community were experiencing were not really being addressed.
The Protestant submission argued that the protests during Drumcree week were mostly peaceful and uncontentious and they were not intended to threaten or intimidate Catholic neighbours.
When Drumcree came about all we had was women and kids down on the road, blocking the road. There was no men. I was the only fellow there, standing at the side of the road making sure the youths didn’t do any messing about and left the women to it.
The police actually came along and stood talking to the women and then went away And that went on for three days. Fire engines were let through, the women moved out of the way ambulances, police, people going for blood were all let through. No trouble whatsoever.
The peaceful atmosphere changed and trouble began they felt when the police decided to change their tactics and move the women and children from the road. This was done without any consultation.
On the third day there was something like a dozen women and kids on the road and the Inspector down in the police barracks decided to send in the riot squad and beat the women and kids.
We had many recorded incidents of women and children beat by police who were doing peaceful protests. Most of them peaceful protests were done with women and children who went out onto the road who would probably never have been seen on the road protesting at all because they felt so strongly that Drumcree was an attack on Protestant liberty in the whole state of Northern Ireland.
This decision by the police to break up the protests, led to an escalation of the issue. According to this submission it was only after this that Catholic families were attacked by Protestants. These attacks were carried out by people from outside the area who felt that the local Protestants were themselves under attack.
That caused elements from outside the area to come in and riot with the police and then turn round and start burning out ordinary Catholics that were living in the estate. Something like twenty Catholics were put out.
They came from the length of the road when they heard the police had moved in and beat the women and kids.
When the police moved to clear the roads it undermined the position of local activists and gave outsiders the opportunity to stir up trouble.
We have our own troublemakers down here - the defenders of Ulster became the defenders of Protestantism and that gave them the excuse to come in. We couldn’t hold it after that. We live in the real world. We know how far we can go and how far we can’t go.
Now the police started that. Then the police have had the brass neck to come to you and ask you to try and settle things down in the estate. They actually came in and Caused it and they couldn’t understand why the Catholic families were burnt out and intimidated and what not. They actually brought the element that we had kept away from the protest, they actually brought them into the area.
The media depicted the attacks on Catholics as the Protestant community closing ranks and uniting to get rid of outsiders, but they said this was not the whole picture.
Most of the nationalist or Catholic families who were attacked were living in mixed areas. They were welcomed by their Protestant neighbours into areas that were probably one time predominantly Protestant. And because of that reason there they were probably easy targets for the thugs and headcases who come up and did attack them.
The thing was never coming across was that Protestant neighbours came out to protect them, community activists went round and knocked doors and tried to keep the spirit up and show that the community was there beside them, it’s never been recorded.
We went onto the street and we have been successful in stopping what could have been a return to all out war. It was community activists and community people on the ground, and Protestant neighbours going to help their Catholic neighbours. It was never mentioned. And once again we are being looked upon again as the big Catholic beaters, etc, etc.
They also insisted that while the focus of attention had been on the attacks on Catholic families, the general high levels of tension in the area also made Protestants aware that they were vulnerable to attack, and like many Catholic residents, they claimed the RUC did not take their concerns seriously.
On 11 July we were informed by a Catholic in the Graymount estate that nationalists were going to come in to burn the Orange bastards out. That’s actually what the girl said. So, we heard this here, and went down to the police and we seen the desk sergeant. We explained to him that we had been told that the nationalists were going to come in and they were going to do this and going to do that - could you put some static patrols in the Graymount estate itself and at the bottom of the Whitewell Road. He wrote this down anyway and said Look we will get back to you, bla, bla, bla.’
The expected threat materialised in the early hours of the morning, when an estimated eighty men 'from the nationalist area’ arrived in the estate.
Men and women came out of their houses. The police, at this time when the eighty nationalists come in, had two men on the ground. And now, give them two policemen their dues, they stood in front and wouldn't let them move but then an Inspector came and he actually started abusing the Protestants that lived in the estate, telling them to get into their houses, that they would be OK. He’s standing with two other policemen facing a crowd with hockey sticks, with hatchets, the lot.
This potentially violent confrontation was actually dealt with peacefully and the crowds dispersed. But at other situations during Drumcree week, Protestants felt that the police were either unsympathetic to local concerns or over aggressive in their handling of events.
The police had no interest. At the same time when a stone was thrown on the Whitewell Road and the Catholic’s came out complaining, they blocked that road with police. It seems the Protestant community don’t count.
It is rather ironic that both communities saw the police as the source of the problems in this area. Nationalists claimed that the police had failed to offer sufficient protection from loyalist violence, and that they had not been willing to confront those blocking the roads. Loyalists on the other hand say that the police were too aggressive in clearing protesters and ignored their concerns. They further state that the escalation of the trouble, into violent attacks on Catholic neighbours only occurred after they had been challenged by the police. In contrast the submissions made by Catholic residents who were forced to leave their homes claim that in general the attacks on them coincided with the road blocks rather than police attempts to clear them away.
These diverging explanations and interpretations of the events suggest that the reasons for the violence are in fact more complex and deep rooted, the protests were a symptom of a deeper malaise rather than the cause of the rioting and intimidation.
Some of the possible factors that underlay the explosion of violence were raised in the submission from the Protestant community.
The first of these factors was the changes that have occurred in the area in recent years as more Catholics have moved in to Lower North Belfast. Protestants see these changes as an example of their willingness to live in mixed communities, but feel that outsiders only focus on these changes when tensions build up.
The Protestant and mixed community groups feel aggrieved that they are always perceived to be sectarian when trouble breaks out. But what they feel they are not given credit for is that a mixed area only becomes mixed when people come into it. Graymount, Mountcollyer; the whole of the Whitewell Road I remember 100% Protestant or 98% Protestant.
The only reason that can become mixed is if Protestants say we are willing to let you live with us. Catholic’s moved in in ones and twos and there is no bother There is no sectarianism People are not given credit for that. There is no trouble until maybe it becomes 60/40 and then political agendas come out, there seems to be a takeover bid. There is no Protestants living in New Lodge. There is no Protestants living in Andersonstown
There is no Protestants living in Ardoyne. That’s why Protestant families were not attacked. They are solely republican or nationalist or Catholic communities. Mixed communities only exist in the Protestant side. And that made the Catholic families vulnerable. I’m not justifying it. I am just saying that the opportunities for the troublemakers was greater.
They also argued that because of the perception of Protestants as more sectarian then more attention is paid to attacks on Catholics and on Catholic property. They claim that attacks on the Protestant community are more easily ignored.
Take Whitewell Road, now ten years ago it was probably a predominantly Protestant area and now you have Protestant churches being attacked, Protestant schools being attacked, Protestant Orange Halls being attacked, and homes. And as soon as you see a Catholic church attacked - which is wrong and I’m not trying to justify that - it’s in the paper. It’s all over the news - but there is no media coverage of the violence in the Whitewell or Mountcollyer of the attacks on Protestant property.
Another perfect example of it is the Whitewell Road - Graymount where you have four Protestant churches who have been burnt and attacked. You have an Orange Hall that is totally vandalised. Last year it was burnt three times.
Orangemen who have to get to the ball and get back again were spat on. There were stones thrown at them. Women and kids who were there were spat on, stones thrown at them. This is an area that was Protestant. OK, they can move people, but we can’t lift buildings and move buildings. It is not our fault that movement has been so great. And they are not understanding this. They just keep on putting slogans up ‘Nationalist Whitewell, Protestants out, Orange B’ - every Protestant is an Orange B.
This they see as a localised version of the arguments over Drumcree. It enabled Protestants in North Belfast to identify with events in Portadown and elsewhere which were seen as a generalised attack on their community.
A second factor which fuelled the violence was a sense of the Protestant working class being let down or even abandoned by the unionist political leadership. This was sometimes expressed in extremely strong terms.
The loyalist working class, from Duncairn to White City; feel aggrieved because there is no Protestant political leadership, very often the so called political leaders exacerbate the situation by using the Protestant working class as cannon-fodder; at the like of Drumcree, instead of getting involved in educating the Protestant working class, instead of getting involved and helping them to empower themselves politically, socially and economically. The only contribution that many of the political leaders make is when there is a controversy when they need cannon-fodder to come onto the streets. A lot of the Protestant working class feel they have been used and abused for twenty five years. And when people do come along prepared to give some form of political leadership and empowerment then they are vilified by the established politicians.
There is this sense of the nationalists don’t want us, our own leaders only want to use and abuse us, and we are simply pawns in a bigger game. And there is an awful lot of resentment being built around that. It’s like a Protestant Sinn Féin, Ourselves Alone, we have got to do it ourselves. Nobody likes us, nobody will support us. And very often if you don ‘t empower people politically and socially if they can’t articulate their view, then they will throw petrol bombs or they get wired in with their fists and their feet.
The political leadership that we are getting from the major unionist parties is really enforcing sectarianism, really enforcing the ghetto mentality. At least working class Protestants have put out the hand of friendship, and there are a lot of nationalists who we can work with, who we work with. Over the two years of the ceasefire a lot of friendships have been forged. A lot of inter-community work has been done. Not cross-community where people take kids away for weekends and not meeting again but real inter-community work. Project participation is happening all around the interface so a lot of friendships have been forged. A lot of work is being done.
This last statement addressing the issue of the increasing sectarian segregation of North Belfast was a widely expressed concern. In many areas Protestants felt that they were being encouraged to leave the area.
Getting back to our political leadership here, and I’m talking about the senior unionist parties, their reaction to this is move to Rathcoole, move to Monkstown, move into ghettos in Carrick and elsewhere. Why do they not improve our housing here? We don’t want to move no more.
The issue of housing resources was one area where the Protestant community felt that they were under attack from all quarters. The previous statement put part of the blame on the unionist political leaders, earlier statements had suggested an unwillingness to allow Protestants to move into widely accepted ‘nationalist areas’. The Housing Executive were also seen as part of the problem.
The Housing Executive were moving single parent Catholics into Graymount. That’s the estate I come from. Then when a Protestant was moved for whatever reason off the Whitewell Road, that Catholic that was moved into Graymount was moved onto the Whitewell Road. Over two years there was seventeen houses went empty. Fourteen Protestants moved out either somewhere else to live or died, because there was a high population of pensioners there. Them seventeen houses went empty. Not one house was given to a Protestant. It was all given to Catholics. And actually from a 70/30 majority of Protestant Graymount it went to 60/40 for the Catholics which started trouble. You know what I mean?
The local people did not blame individual Catholics and could understand their needs, but they felt that their own needs were too readily ignored.
We realise that there is a big push for housing. It is something we have to live with from the Catholic side. The Catholic community in the New Lodge is busting over; the Catholic’ community in Ardoyne is busting over The only direction they can look is out.
We want to remain here. We want better housing. I mean the perception that we are all living in big houses on the Malone Road - anyone’s only to walk around the area. We have poor housing. We have unemployment. We have got problems with all the social diseases - we have got drug abuse and domestic violence. It all exists in our areas.
There is also some acknowledgement of the pragmatics of the pressure on the demand for housing and some of the problems that it will raise.
We don’t want to go any further We want proper houses. We want proper facilities within our own areas and if that means that we have to hive beside Catholic neighbours we are quite willing to look into that and do that. I’m not saying everyone will be pleased with it - there would be a terrible lot down here would not be pleased with it but it is a real world we are living in.
But people were insisting on their right to stay in the areas that they regarded as theirs and the right to have their desires respected.
What we are looking for is for them to respect our culture, respect our rights. They just can’t have it all one way street all the time. Everything that is our culture is pushed aside - I mean I’m not an Orangeman but the Orangemen are part of my culture, they have a right to do their marches. Negotiation has to come into it. The) have to respect where we are coming from. They have to respect us.
The submission expresses a seamless flow of feelings and concerns which links the problems of parades and housing to the larger issues of national identity.
They cannot keep on going out and saying ‘Brits out’ and us feeling Brits out is us. The British presence is not the army. We are the British presence. The Protestant population is the British presence and we are not going anywhere else. We are staying. We are going to fight for what rightly is ours and that means housing, education, jobs - just like anybody else. We are moving no further. We are staying here. And the feeling of isolation - we are going to lift that. We are going to get into networking and if it means we have to go on by ourselves, then we will do that. But at the end of the day our whole confidence building is that somewhere along the line we will be able to make that step across.
This last statement is perhaps surprisingly optimistic given recent events. But in spite of the violence people felt that there were still enough strong links between the two communities to start to pick up the pieces.
The one good thing that came out of it was that the network of communication between the community activists in North Belfast held and held very strongly Community activists were able to go to interface areas in the middle of a clash and actually recognise community activists on the other side and make that connection and be able to push the crowds back and hold some sort of peace line.
This experience would then serve as the basis for future work, it would also indicate some of the areas which need to be tackled most seriously and some potential problems.
We must build on the positive side, the network of communication has kept open. The cross community projects are still going forward, though we have realised that there is a lack of confidence within the Protestant groups and we are trying to build that. But because we are trying to build that, to build our own confidence, again that is being looked as an attack on the Catholic community, where it isn't. Our emphasis on single identity work is to build confidence within the Protestant groups so that we will not fall this low again, that we will have the confidence to stay strong and keep on making the hand of friendship across.
For some people at least the violence had made them realise that they faced a stark reality, either they could move towards further segregation and isolation conflict or they could attempt to rebuild the bridges and restore the mixed communities. This did not really seem to offer a choice.
After all the trouble, at one of the Protestant interface meetings the Protestant representatives from Graymount and Mid-Skegoneill, stood up and said they wanted their community to re in mixed. They didn‘t want to put the Catholics out and become Protestant. They wanted the community to remain mixed because the only future for Northern Ireland is the way of mixed communities.
We are living probably in worse conditions than our Catholic neighbours are. But at the same time we are quite willing to have mixed communities and for communities to remain mixed, if that is the wish of that community. What we do not want is republicanism forced down our throats, neither do we want to force loyalism down anybody else’s throat. We want respect basically. We want them to respect our culture and we will do our best to respect theirs.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
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