Tuesdays 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.
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