An overdue Spotlight on Stoneyford

Tuesday’s Spotlight will be an investigation into sectarianism ten years on from the Good Friday Agreement, and it seems to have some focus on the decade-long campaign endured by Catholic residents in the county Antrim village of Stoneyford

Stoneyford, as a small rural village of just 318 (at the last census) seems an unlikely area to be plagued by consistent sectarian attacks, but, ahead of the programme looking back on some of the coverage, some causative factors may be apparent.

The saga seems to begin in earnest shortly after the formation of the Orange Volunteers Unionist paramilitary group in response to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

After murder of Ciaran Heffron in Crumlin which some attribute to OV members, several of its members were caught cruising Antrim with an automatic weapon. Follow up searches led to the discovery of weapons, explosives and British state documents with details of many hundreds of Nationalists within Stoneyford Orange Hall. One of those arrested and later released without charge was keyholder to the hall and then village resident, Mark Harbinson.

Harbinson fled the country (after being released by the RUC) and later turned himself in.

He escaped prosecution.

Harbinson was later to rise to prominence in the OO during the Drumcree protests as a leading figure in their ‘outlawed’ Spirit of Drumcree wing. The Orange Volunteers organisation were blamed for a spate of attacks on catholic churches, homes and properties in the south-west Antrim area, widely viewed as a King Canute-ish attempt to intimidate catholics who had moved to the rapidly expanding village communities of Crumlin, Glenavy and Stoneyford.

Mark Harbinson was implicated by the Rev Brian Kennaway in his book as being involved in an illegal paramilitary parade in Crumlin in 2001 and was one of the ‘Drumcree Fifteen’ charged and convicted with rioting in 2002- receiving a suspended sentence, and thanking the Orange Order for its support immediately after the trial.

He has since been behind the setting up of the Stoneyford Pride of the Village Flute band which, just last summer, carried out yet another illegal parade through mixed religion cul-de-sacs in the Village, past the homes of catholic families who had alleged he and others had personally threatened them.

This was just ahead of being feted here on Slugger by Ms Fitz for his Lisburn Council funded 12th July beacon event– an event which was marked by threats delivered from the platform to Sinn Fein, DUP and UUP politicians to stay out of the village.

He has admitted on Talkback to doing ‘election work’ for the DUP.

Throughout this period the village, which is ringed by OV grafitti for many miles on every street sign and is bedecked in red/white/blue bunting, has endured a focused campaign of anti-catholicism.

The only business in the town, a pub, shut many years ago after a campaign against the Catholic owners running to more than sixty attacks including pipe bombs and regularly delivered threats to kill.

Throughout the past ten years, there has been a steady flow of catholic families fleeing the village, most personally citing the name of Mr. Harbinson to the PSNI for threats personally delivered and normally followed later by attacks to their homes, cars or, in more recent years, threats to their children.

In December 2007, two children escaped an attempted abduction by loyalists in the village and all male members of one of the boy’s family were informed of a threat to their lives. The family has since fled the village, but not before receiving another death threat in early 2008.

Yet ten years into the campaign, in a tiny village, a single perpetrator is yet to be charged, though Harbinson has been arrested and questioned twice in the past month over threats (following extenstive media coverage in the village since the beginning of the year) and another loyalist has been served with an exclusion order after threatening an elderly female resident of the village.

As Spotlight were filming for the programme, the reporting team- and elected representative they were interviewing, Paul Butler- were themselves attacked and intimidated, with the loyalists smashing one of the Spotlight team’s car windows in a vain effort to steal the camera. The previous week, Mark Harbinson- accompanied by TUV councillor, Cecil Calvert, interrupted a UTV interview with Sinn Fein’s Paul Butler in the village in the aftermath of a report from the Police Ombudsman confirming that the office had recommended disciplinary action against PSNI officers over deficiencies in the handling of sectarian incidents in the village.

Earlier this week, Mark Harbinson led a 50-strong loyalist protest outside Lisburn Council offices during the monthly Council meeting, during which a letter was handed in claiming that “a rising groundswell of unionist opinion” was calling for more to be done “to counter….[republican’s] sectarian agenda.”

So tune in on Tuesday and see if you can work out what exacty is going on, who is to blame, and where the overlaps lie.

  • Ian

    “He has admitted on Talkback to doing ‘election work’ for the DUP.”

    Didn’t he help out with the UUP’s Basil McCrea as well, during the campaign for last year’s Assembly elections?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Not that I support the intimidation that is being carried out in Stoneyford, but why isn’t there the same amount of publicity about villages like Rasharkin and Dunloy, which had a healthy Protestant population until recently?

  • TAFKABO

    Ulsters my homeland

    Get a fucking grip and just denounce this for what it is, unacceptable fascistic behaviour, no excuses, no whataboutery.

  • RepublicanStones

    I remember the interrupted interview, old Cecil must think its the wild west judging by the stetson-like headgear he was wearing……..comical.

  • Interesting

    A rather unbalanced article. Plays up to the usual Republican ideology that only catholics can be victims and it is always the fault of the big bad protestants. Admittedly, Harbinson doesn’t do much except walk into the trap already set by SF. He does represent a strong undercurrent of feeling that the ethnic cleansing of protestants by certain groups e.g. North Belfast (Torrens Estate, Twaddell Avenue etc) and other parts of Northern Ireland. I must say it is a very good tactic to which most protestants don’t seem to have an answer to except reverting to type.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    [i]”Get a fucking grip and just denounce this for what it is, unacceptable fascistic behaviour, no excuses, no whataboutery.”[/i]

    TAFKABO, I thought you might have known that I denounce it when I said I don’t support it.

    Do you denounce the ethnic cleansing of Protestants in Rasharkin and Dunloy, no excuses, no whataboutery?

    ….and spotlight was nowhere to be seen! says it all really, the media thinks it’s OK to ethnically cleanse Prods, but not the other way round!

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘Harbinson doesn’t do much except walk into the trap already set by SF.’

    What did Paul Butler use, a bear trap or a butterfly net?

    UMH I don’t support Armagh, but i wouldn’t denounce the lads. also read about the balkans conflict will ya !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Greenflag

    ‘“The previous week, Mark Harbinson- accompanied by TUV councillor, Cecil Calvert, interrupted a UTV interview”

    If anyone had any doubts about exactly what the TUV are… here’s the answer.’

    Why haven’t SF or the SDLP been more vociferous on this issue? This Harbinson headcase needs a restraining order placed on him , keeping him at least 500 yards away from any Catholic or Fenian within Northern Ireland . So sharing a cage with his fellow simians in Belfast Zoo won’t do the trick either 🙁

    Harbinson is just laying the groundwork for a TUV MLA seat.

  • TAFKABO

    Ulsters my homeland

    I denounce all unacceptable fascistic behaviour, which is why I wont stoop to putting labels on the victims like catholic or protestant, labeling them only enable people to cop out of doing the right thing and standing up against it.
    This thread is about Stoneyford.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Well said Taf!

  • TAFKABO

    Well said?

    You were calling me a nutter a few days ago.

    😉

  • Prince Eoghan

    I’m sure you will be back on the kool aid soon enough lol!

  • Right, quick intervention before this gets out of hand. Cathal Daly on Whataboutery: “the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today”.

    Now, whilst the memory of recent arguments from some Republican commenters that Slugger lacks balance are still clear in the memory: some stories just have to be told straight as they can be.

    In truth there is little balance to be found in some of these stories, though there is always space here for corrections and if there is balance to be found it will arise in the conversations arising.

  • Mick, where does that leave hypocrisy and the pots calling the kettles black? I don’t have a problem with the BBC exposing paramilitary shenanigans but ‘colluding’ with a different paramilitary group, the PRM, to do it seems a bit rich, not least when the latter have been up to similar tricks.

  • doctor no

    “why isn’t there the same amount of publicity about villages like Rasharkin and Dunloy, which had a healthy Protestant population until recently?”

    What happened to them? Fell ill from seeing too many fenians about the place??

  • Dec

    don’t have a problem with the BBC exposing paramilitary shenanigans but ‘colluding’ with a different paramilitary group, the PRM, to do it seems a bit rich, not least when the latter have been up to similar tricks.

    Nevin

    Assuming that you’re referring to Paul Butler, then I should remind you that he is an elected representative. I fully expect that the BBC is ‘colluding’ with him on that basis. To be fair, your ‘and what about the Provos?’ deflection fades in comparison to Interesting’s line that Mr Harbinson and his cohorts are unwitting victims of a fiendish SF trap.
    Also interesting is that not one Unionist commenter has grasped the underlying theme that runs throughout’s Mark’s piece: the apparent impunity those involved in the Stoneyford violence and intimidation appear to operate under.

  • Dec, fascism is fascism, elected or otherwise. Playing the ‘whataboutery’ card IMO helps to sanitise those that need the full glare of publicity – and I’m not just thinking of paramilitary organisations.

    The immunity disgusts but no longer shocks me. It’s been a long time since I first drew attention to the ‘not ruffling paramilitary feathers without political clearance’ strategy within which our justice system was been constrained to operate, a strategy IMO devised and ‘policed’ by the two governments. It seems the ‘good’ paramilitaries had been issued with a ‘stay out of jail’ immunity card. Is in unreasonable to assume that Harbinson has got one but others have been handed out to bigger fish? And I’m not thinking of Haddock …

  • gareth mccord

    Mark Harbinson is a fully paid up member of special branch!!
    One fine day he arrived at my fathers door to say he wanted to help him get haddock. But unknown to harbison my father knew he was a rat. So my dad then arranged to meet him at my brothers graveside only to be arrested and held in gough barracks for 3 days. He tried to set up my father by thinking my father had pipe bombs and guns to use on haddock and co. Why wasnt harbinson treated with the same method as my father. Why did harbinson not take the police to court for wrongful arrest as my father did and won??? Why did the police release a protective clause when my fathers barrister requested files on harbinson??
    If i was a catholic resident or any law abbiding resident of stoneyford then i would go to the ombudsman and make a complaint that harbinson gets away with his activities because he is a rat!

  • Ms Fitz praised this man’s cummunity actions. Ulster’s Protestant heritage is coat tailing and keeping the Croppies down. From our cold down hands.

    Let’s make no mistake about this. The Papish church is a church of sinners (read Milton’s poems if you doubt me). Why apologise for our culture. And why is the BBC highlighting this and not the peace keeping efforts of the Chinese?
    And Diana was killed in a Papish land. Need we say more?

    We are, we are
    We are the Billy boys

  • Ulsters my homeland

    [i]”One fine day he arrived at my fathers door to say he wanted to help him get haddock. But unknown to harbison my father knew he was a rat. So my dad then arranged to meet him at my brothers graveside only to be arrested and held in gough barracks for 3 days.”[/i]

    Gareth, why would your father want to meet up with him if he knew he was a rat?

    ..and why would Harbinson, or indeed his handlers, be willing to blow his cover by arresting your father after he approached your father?

  • willowfield

    On the face of it, it seems hard to understand why this obnoxious and dangerous Harbinson prick hasn’t been charged with anything – it seems that the police have a prima facie case to answer as to why a prosecution has not been possible. Lack of evidence? If so, what evidence is needed? If there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution, can an ASBO be used to exclude Harbinson from the village? Why are ASBOs so rarely used in NI?

    Can this be raised at the Policing Board? If so, why hasn’t it been? If not, why not?

    Finally, I recall Jeffrey Donaldson, the local MP, being interviewed about this some time ago and he said he would be raising it with the police – what was the outcome, Jeffrey? What have you been doing to push this?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    has it anything to do with the erection of a GAA facility in Glenavy? I know the GAA are as politically active as the shinners, they’re the same breed if you ask me, but why is there a need to force Catholics into Protestant houses?

    an area which is predominately Protestant has no need to be ‘equalised’, why can’t it be left alone?

  • Mark McGregor

    The GAA club that has been there since 1943? Lets hear your explanation on how it forces some people in Stoneyford to intimidate their neighbours. I hope its better than the SF made them do it line you tried earlier.

  • The Raven

    Without getting into the ins and outs of this post…

    Willowfield wrote: “Why are ASBOs so rarely used in NI?”

    They are often seen as a badge of honor among those who receive them. Also, it is acknowledged that they merely move a problem from one area to another. They are like CCTV in that respect.

    By sheer coincidence, I was reading this account I found on t’internet written by a peeler across the water. I place nothing by its veracity, it’s merely an interesting point of view. It is reproduced here as I found it:

    “From my experience, most ASBO’s aren’t obeyed. I’ve arrested lads for breaching their ASBO on many an occasion but very rarely do the courts dish out the punishment required. All too often they are won over by the defendants solicitor spouting what quite often is a bunch of lies as to why their client breached, why he shouldn’t be locked up etc etc. The clueless magistrates quite often believe this **** and give the lad another chance. Next time he’s up before the court, it’s a different set of magistrates and the cycle begins again. The judicial system has a major part to play in the problems this country is facing. These kids know how to play the system. They’ve been arrested so many times. They know what to say in interview. Free legal representation at the police station and at court with solicitors given carte blanche to say what they want in court. Magistrates not wanting to lock them up due to government guidelines so a pitiful punishment, or worse, suspended sentence. They then walk out of court knowing full well that nothing will prevent them breaching their ASBO yet again.”

    Willowfield also asked: “Can this be raised at the Policing Board? If so, why hasn’t it been? If not, why?”

    Sure according to Policing Board members like Mr Maskey, the police are useless, and he says so from snide sniping from the sidelines. Oh, but don’t expect him to engage with the police in a meaningful fashion to actually advise and help in problems such as this. The former course of action is much easier for £60k a year than the latter.

  • Norton

    Newton Emerson said on Panorama that he believes new housing estates were a glimmer of hope in the battle against segregation.
    It looked like he was speaking in Glengormley which frankly is a terrible example. Mayfield and basically the whole of the Hightown Road are exclusively Catholic as is basically every recently laid brick between the fork in the road in Glengormley and the Whitewell Road.
    He just needed to be in Mallusk Primary School at the last election and see the mass of Sinn Fein votes from the Hightown Road to see that segregation is well and truly in place, even in ostensibly middle class areas.

  • Dewi

    Good post Mark. It’s the detail of the intensity of such activities that’s depressing.

  • carl marks

    Ulsters my homeland says:
    7 April 2008 at 11:56 pm

    has it anything to do with the erection of a GAA facility in Glenavy? I know the GAA are as politically active as the shinners, they’re the same breed if you ask me, but why is there a need to force Catholics into Protestant houses?

    an area which is predominately Protestant has no need to be ‘equalised’, why can’t it be left alone?

    Amazing heres a poster that thinks catholics buying a house is a papish plot also the gaa are behind it.
    I knew it was just a matter of time before some bigot tried to blame it on the taigs after all mark is a good man driven to these actions by the evil papists and if they just knew there place and stayed in the lovely ghettos we give them this sort of thing just would not happen, my god some of them are even sitting at the front of the bus. never should have given hem he vote in the first place the good taig doesnt want it and the bad taig doesnt deserve it