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Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

More loyalist agitation goes on without condemnation.

It began late one night when Kathleen McCaughey's front door was kicked down by two men who stormed up the stairs shouting: "Taigs out."

"Aren't you going to call me an Orange bastard?" asked one of the men when Mrs McCaughey, 51, who has epilepsy, came out of her bedroom in her dressing gown.

After five months of attacks including petrol and paint bombs and a poster campaign calling her a republican scrounger, she was given a few hours to clear her house and leave the village of Ahoghill in Ian Paisley's North Antrim constituency.

Protestant children had been paid £5 each to sit on her front lawn banging drums until she caved in. If she did not go, she was told, her row of houses would be burned down.

The town of Ballymena and its surrounding villages are in the grip of the worst wave of anti-Catholic sectarian attacks for years and the police have been forced to adopt the same tactics as the UN uses in Kosovo: guarding Catholic churches, schools and Gaelic sports clubs at night to stop them being torched.

Northern Ireland is slipping into the kind of civil strife where people cannot tolerate the presence of their neighbours, and it is being demonstrated at primary schools. Two Catholic schools in the area were burned in arson attacks within 24 hours last week. The head of Northern Ireland's community relations council has said the police patrols are unsustainable, adding that many people would soon start to feel they could only live in Ballymena with UN-style protection.

Mr Paisley, who has always talked about his unbiased dedication to the Catholics in his constituency, was accused of moral cowardice and a lack of leadership. He returned from holiday and condemned the attacks last week but complained that, in the past, attacks on his church headquarters in Belfast had not been condemned by Sinn Féin.

Mark Durkan, the SDLP's leader, accused loyalist paramilitaries from the Ulster Defence Association of orchestrating sectarian violence in north Antrim.

Police said it was more complex than a coordinated campaign against Catholics, adding that teenagers and young boys had been involved. A 13-year-old boy has been charged with arson following last week's attack on St Louis' primary school which destroyed one classroom and damaged 10 others. A 15-year-old is also being questioned. Police have recorded 28 significant attacks against Catholics, including two attempted murders, and 14 attacks against Protestants.

In the nearby, predominantly Protestant, suburb of Harryville, the Catholic church has been repeatedly paint bombed and daubed with slogans such as "Fuck the Pope" over the summer.

A report by the Institute for Conflict Research shows that following the Good Friday Agreement in 1997, sectarian violence has increased, with more attacks on churches, Gaelic sports clubs and Orange halls than before the ceasefires of 1994.

There have been sectarian attacks on both side of the divide in north and east Belfast throughout the summer.

Dennis Bradley, the former Catholic priest who brokered the first ceasefire and is now a member of the policing board, said police alone could not solve the problem of the sectarian attacks, which he blamed on the "nihilism of 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds" and "20- and 30-year-olds who are quite sectarian in the sense that they cannot live with their neighbours".

Other research recently has shown that children as young as five or six are displaying bigoted ideas.

A generation is growing up more segregated and sectarian than its parents.

This is about more than just the peace process, the IRA and the DUP. That the loyalist and republican communities are growing up and teaching their kids to be bigoted by the age of 5 and 6 shows that something is badly going wrong. It seems incomprehensible to me that two groups who supposedly believe in the same God can be at war at each other in 2005. It's not just a failure of leadership and condemnation by the leading politicians, it's their petty radicalism and intolerance which is adding fuel to the fire. The distasteful Ian Paisley, a religious extremist if there ever was one, continues to lead the biggest politicial party, and is welcomed with hand shakes at 10 Downing Street. Gerry Adams and the other Sinn Fein MPs still do not take their seats.

What this amounts to is if not ethnic cleansing, religious cleansing. Most of all though, it's the same loyalists who are attacking catholics who are demanding that the IRA take photographs of them destroying their weapons, while they run around setting fire to churches. It's an endless cycle of stupidity, and I can't see it ending for a long time yet.

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