Friends of 20 years turn on each other in Carrickfergus

 

There is little to distinguish the residents of Carrickfergus's working-class Protestant estates. Most are fiercely unionist, most hate republicans and loyalist flags fly from nearly every house.

Yet for five hours early yesterday, neighbour turned against neighbour. Old friends became enemies as 32 homes and at least 12 cars were damaged in tit-for-tat attacks.

The British army was last night back on the streets of the Co Antrim town. The conflict between the Shankill UDA and UVF had spread to Carrickfergus.

It didn't matter that people had lived side by side for decades. A house could be attacked because it flew the UDA's red and blue flag or the UVF's orange and purple one.

It wasn't just the paramilitaries and members of their political wings who bore the brunt of the violence; their families were also targeted.

Bricks and bottles were hurled through windows in the Castlemara, Glenfield, Woodburn and Greenisland estates. Often just women and children were at home. "They're brave men in the UDA, smashing up our homes and then running away," said one woman.

Each side blamed the other. A UDA source said the UVF started it all by attacking the home of a man injured in the UVF attack on a loyalist prisoners' office on the Shankill last week. A seven-year-old was in the house.

"That set our boys off. Of course, we hit back on their homes. The UVF nearly killed that wee girl, Charlene Daly, the night before in Coleraine and we weren't going to allow them to do the same in Carrickfergus."

Ms Caroline Howarth, of the Progressive Unionist Party, the UVF's political wing, said the UDA had attacked the house itself to stir up trouble in Carrickfergus. "UVF personnel only came on to the streets to guard PUP personnel's homes. The UVF did eventually retaliate after the UDA attacked homes."

The damage was considerable. Broken windows, doors and car windscreens. In some cases, the assailants entered houses and ransacked them.

A woman on the Castlemara estate whose home was attacked said it had been an awful night. "I have an eight-week-old baby and look at the state of this place. I can't even put the nappies on the child because of the glass in them. . . Other baby clothes on the washing line were dragged off and danced upon. The people who did this are scum."

She said she could not forgive the assailants. "We know who they are and their day will come."

Another woman said: "I dread going back to my house tonight. I will have some of the children watching the front gate, others watching the back garden. Luckily, the double-glazing saved my house. The bricks smashed the first sheet of glass but didn't come through the second. Somebody is going to be killed if this doesn't stop."

Another woman said she had lived in the estate for 20 years and would not be moving out. "The UVF can keep coming back all they like. We will learn to live with it. Even if they have a truce on the Shankill, it won't apply here. This is a small place and people have long memories."