Suzanne Breen
Sunday Tribune
15 August 2004

“This is a vulnerable Catholic community under constant threat from
loyalists and it has been abandoned by Sinn Féin,” says Paddy Murray as
he stands outside his home in Antrim's Rathenraw Estate.

They are powerful words from a former IRA prisoner and, until recently,
chairperson of the local Sinn Féin cumann. “Twelve out of thirteen of us
in the cumann resigned earlier this summer,” says Murray who is also
chairperson of the Rathenraw Community Association.

“We felt completely let down by Sinn Féin. It's all about being
respectable these days. It's about not upsetting unionism. It's about
presenting a good image to the media to win middle-class votes. It's not
about protecting an isolated community which needs help.

“A neighbour had his home attacked four times in three weeks this
summer. The girl who lived in the house before him was petrol bombed.
Residents live in constant fear.” Sinn Féin strongly denies it has
abandoned the community and attributes the divisions to “personality

Some residents criticise the work of local Sinn Féin councillors, Martin
Meehan and Martin McManus. Sinn Féin says both men are fully committed
to their constituents.

Murray (41) served eight years of a 25-year sentence after being
arrested on his way to blow up oil tanks at Belfast City Airport in
1993. His co-accused was Danny Morrison's brother Ciaran. On release
from jail, he voiced support for the peace process and threw himself
into community activity. He says he never thought he'd find himself in
conflict with Sinn Féin.

Only 250 families live in Rathenraw, a bleak estate with small clusters
of houses, vast stretches of grass, and little else. It's surrounded by
loyalists on all sides. There are regular attacks on Catholic residents,
homes and cars.

In June, a pipe bomb exploded outside Murray's house. Last month,
Catholic teenagers, drinking in a pub in town, were beaten up by
loyalist bandsmen. Three years ago, Ciaran Cummings (19) was shot dead
on his way to work. “Remember Ciaran Cummings, ha, ha, ha!” and other
abuse has been painted on walls.

Loyalist flags and graffiti adorn Antrim. Residents say the town centre
isn't safe after dark. Catholics have been beaten up while shopping or
leaving the cinema. Loyalists have gathered outside St Malachy's
Catholic High School sporadically for the past three years.

“It's similar to Holy Cross in Ardyone,” says Murray. “It started with a
group of between five and ten loyalists standing outside the school with
pitbull terriers, Alsatians and Rottweilers. They'd shout abuse and act
in a threatening manner when children were going home.

“So I would pick up my son, put him in the car, then go back and stand
with the rest of the kids. At one stage, the crowd grew to 150 and they
had sticks. We're just waiting to see what happens when school re-opens
next month.”

Murray claims Sinn Féin didn't like his approach: “Their attitude was
that Catholics are so out-numbered in Antrim, we should just keep our
heads down. I couldn't go along with that. If loyalists are stoning our
homes, then I'm sorry but I won't stop our young people stoning them

“If there is an incursion of loyalists into this estate — and there have
been many with hand-to-hand fighting — then I'll go out with my
neighbours, with baseball bats, to defend our homes. Sinn Féin thinks
I'm a dinosaur.”
Many residents voiced dissatisfaction with Sinn Féin at a meeting of the
Rathenraw Community Assocation on Wednesday night. Deborah Taylor (28)
who has three young children said: “Every year, during the marching
season, my house is attacked.

“All the windows are broken. There's no point in fixing them until
September because they'll only be broken again. Sinn Féin is doing
nothing to protect us. They don't care.” Aine Gribbon (38), a mother of
eight was a Sinn Féin candidate in the council elections but has now
left the party.

Last year, the police warned her she was on a loyalist paramilitary
death list. “Sinn Féin isn't representing this community,” she says. “My
brother lives on the Stiles Estate which is very loyalist. He's married
to a Protestant. His was one of 10 houses that had every window put in
last year.

“He's had to built a huge wall around the house and put an eight-foot
fence on top of that. He has installed reinforced glass. It was a battle
to get Sinn Féin to even highlight these attacks. They eventually did it
but they didn't want to rock the boat.”

Youth worker Sharon Brash says: “My house was stoned on the Twelfth and
Sinn Féin did absolutely nothing. I'll never vote for them again.” Asked
about the tensions in Rathenraw, a police spokeswoman said: “Police
constantly work closely in partnership with representatives from both
sides of the community and elected officials in the area to resolve any

Joe McCavanagh (35) is a former republican prisoner and Sinn Féin
election candidate. “We are a tiny island of nationalists here in
Rathenraw,” he says. “We needed help from outside to survive but Sinn
Féin wouldn't give it.

“Plenty of times they didn't even visit people when their homes were
attacked. Sometimes that's all people want — a visit — to let them know
somebody cares.” He also left Sinn Féin: “As a republican, it was really
hard to do. It turned my world upside down but we felt very let down by
Sinn Féin.”

Residents say they have also clashed with Sinn Féin over the drugs'
problem in the estate. Last week, Stephen Johnston of Suffolk Square was
charged in connection with the seizure of £500,000 worth of ecstasy.

“We were concerned when this man moved into the estate but certain
individuals in Sinn Féin vouched for him,” says Paddy Murray. “Local
people now want this man's family to move out but Sinn Féin are
protecting them and accusing us of intimidation.”

Some residents who have criticised Sinn Féin allege they have been
threatened by party representatives. Sinn Féin were invited to the
Rathenraw Community Association's meeting on Wednesday but didn't

However, a Sinn Féin spokesman said the party had met with some
residents separately the previous night. He said both Catholic and
Protestant homes had been attacked in Antrim. He strongly denied that
Sinn Féin had abandoned Rathenraw or that its representatives had
threatened residents. “Sinn Féin is not in the business of making
threats,” he said.

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