21 July 2005

Mental hell of sectarian attacks

Daily Ireland

By Jarlath Kearney

Young nationalists in east Belfast are encountering high levels of physical stress and mental health problems as a result of sectarian attacks, a Short Strand interface worker said yesterday.
Paul Brennan was speaking to Daily Ireland ahead of a conference being organised by the anti-collusion lobby group An Fhírinne, due to be held on August 4.
The Youth for Truth conference is billed as the first stage in a new all-Ireland strategy highlighting the negative impact of state agencies on young people from nationalist backgrounds.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams will be one of those addressing the conference. Speakers at the event will also include Deirdre McAliskey, who witnessed a loyalist assassination attack on her parents Bernadette and Michael at their Tyrone home in 1980.
A representative of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombing victims is scheduled to attend.
Paul Brennan will address the event about the ongoing difficulties around interface areas.
He told Daily Ireland yesterday that the importance of the conference “should not be underestimated”.
“For eight continuous months in 2002, homes and houses in Short Strand were constantly attacked, day and daily.
“Because of its locality and size, the threat to the area has always been there, but the intensive and relentless nature of the siege had a profound effect on young people,” Mr Brennan said.
In May 2002, the Short Strand area was “subjected to a physical and psychological siege by loyalists from across east Belfast, aided by state forces”, he said.
During the first days of the incident, Sinn Féin Belfast chairman Paud Devenny had his skull fractured in two places after being attacked by PSNI riot squads that had invaded the area.
Throughout the following eight months, residents were prevented from freely accessing medical, social and even educational facilities outside the immediate area. On one occasion, Short Strand residents were physically assaulted and ousted from a clinical surgery on Bryson Street by loyalists.
The main area of sustained conflict in the Short Strand was at the loyalist Cluan Place and nationalist Clandeboye Gardens interface. As the interface violence escalated, more than 100 pipe and petrol bombs were thrown into the Short Strand. Both republicans and loyalists fired weapons across the interface.
Mr Brennan said this catalogue of events must be seen in the context of British government assurances in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that every citizen should be allowed to live free from sectarian harassment.
“While there is a focus on the direct impact of collusion and state killing on young people through the experience of older family members, the indirect impact of loyalist activities, which frequently have the support of the state, at interface areas also needs to be heard,” Mr Brennan said.
“In 1994 when the ceasefire was called, many of today’s teenagers were only toddlers and so have had a totally different sense of politicisation from that which young people in the 1980s and early 1990s experienced.
“Today’s teenagers growing up in interface areas are seeing sectarianism with their own eyes, particularly in incidents like the siege of Short Strand.
“However, because of the localised and low-intensity role of the state, there is not necessarily the same opportunity for public discussion that may have existed for young people previously.
“For state agencies like the PSNI to acquiesce over recent years as young nationalists and their families were prevented from accessing essential services like doctors or shops leaves an ongoing and deep-seated legacy.”
Mr Brennan said significant work was being conducted through interface networks, cross-community activity and single-identity projects.
“Despite that positive community work, the reality is that many young people in Short Strand are now suffering from depression, anxiety, fear, insomnia and even an inability to sleep in their own homes as a direct result of the siege.
The media also have significant questions to answer about their attempts to portray interface violence as merely tit-for-tat, Mr Brennan added.
The Youth for Truth conference is one of the key events in this year’s Féile an Phobail and takes place at St Mary’s University College on west Belfast’s Falls Road on August 4.

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