On Monday morning, we were treated to the spectacle of a County Down golf star representing all that is supposedly great and good about the ‘new Northern Ireland’ amidst official astonishment that the numbers of tourists visiting the Six County state are dropping.
By virtue of a victory on a north American golf course, Rory McIlroy was alleged to be a symbol that made everyone in the Orange state proud to be from ‘Northern Ireland’, while the public was invited to be mystified that tourists were not so keen on visiting the North. ‘Perhaps if we had more golf courses’, mused the corporate voice of New Northern Ireland Inc.
By Monday evening, however, the more familiar face of occupied Ireland had reared its ugly head.
In what was a clearly premeditated attack, hundreds of unionists, armed with petrol bombs, paint bombs and pipe bombs, launched themselves at the isolated nationalist Short Strand enclave in east Belfast. The attack was launched from two different directions at exactly 9pm and was led by a large number of men dressed all in black, with balaclavas over their faces and surgical gloves on their hands.
This was the worst violence to hit the Short Strand since the prolonged sectarian siege of nearly a decade ago and has raised fears that the UVF are intent on raising tensions as the Orange marching season gets underway.
Dozens of houses were damaged during the sustained attack, while at least one man was hospitalised with serious head injuries. The unionist mob was driven back by local people emerging from their homes to defend their community. However, the mob then proceeded to pelt the district with missiles for a number of hours, with the PSNI doing nothing meaningful to halt the attack.
When the PSNI did intervene, it was to fire plastic bullets, injuring a number of young nationalists in the process.
The background to last night’s attacks, which were planned and orchestrated by the UVF, was an increasing dissatisfaction within the organisation over the targeting of senior members by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team for sectarian murders carried out over the last 40 years.
éirígí national vice-chairperson Rab Jackson and the party’s Upper Falls representative Pádraic Mac Coitir visited the Short Strand this morning [Tuesday] to show solidarity with residents and to meet with local éirígí activists and community workers.
The two were shown some of the most badly damaged houses and talked to residents who said they had experienced the most terrifying night in a long time.
Jackson said: “Nationalists are sick, sore and tired of the fact that every time there are difficulties within unionism, this manifests itself in violent sectarian attacks. Ultimately, what we witnessed last night was the cranking up of a unionist mob – at the behest of the UVF – that simply doesn’t want a catholic about the place in east Belfast.
“The attack on the Short Strand is also an indicator of the total failure of what is called the peace process and those who police it to protect nationalists in vulnerable areas.”
Jackson added: “The people of the Short Strand are to be commended for their bravery in confronting the UVF and eventually forcing them from the area.
“The Short Strand community has a long and proud history of defending their area from British and unionist aggression, éirígí is confident that the current generation of residents will be no less determined.”