Northern Ireland

Belfast Catholic families flee 'sectarian threats'

Cantrell Close Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Cantrell Close was envisaged as a shared housing area to bring communities together

Four Catholic families in Belfast have left their homes having received sectarian threats, a housing authority has said.

They live in Cantrell Close, a shared housing area off the Ravenhill Road.

The PSNI said a paramilitary link to the threats is a "very clear line of enquiry".

Sinn Féin said the threats came from the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group.

One of those who fled said police had visited his home on Tuesday night, telling the family they were under threat and would have to leave.

Image caption One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said his family was stunned by the threat

"I've just got my family out of there, we're moving into temporary accommodation at a friend's house," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

"We're not going to be able to go back to get clothes or anything and we went to the Housing Executive to try and get us rehoused."

'Disregard for community'

The man said he hoped he, his pregnant partner and their family would find a new home before Christmas because they are expecting another child in January.

He added that he had been left "stunned" by the threat, believing that his family were targeted because they are Catholics.

"We've been living there for just over a year and never had a problem - talked away to the neighbours, everyone was really nice - then this just came out of nowhere," he said.

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Media captionThe DUP has shown "very little leadership" in addressing paramilitary flags, says the SDLP's Claire Hanna

Ch Supt Chris Noble said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) would not speculate on who was behind the threats.

But he added: "Whoever it is clearly has no regard whatsoever for what the people of east Belfast want in terms a community that can work effectively together and without division.

"We want to work with the residents in that area to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Ch Supt Noble denied that police had asked the families to leave their homes, adding that the job of the police was to "keep them safe".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Ch Supt Chris Noble says police informed residents of the threats but did not ask them to leave

The Housing Executive said: "A number of families in the south Belfast area have presented to us as homeless today claiming sectarian intimidation."

Cantrell Close is a housing development which is part of the Together Building United Communities programme.

The strategy, which was launched by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2013, is aimed at "improving community relations and building a united and shared society".

There was controversy in June when union flags and and UVF flags were put up in the area.

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: "What family wants to get the PSNI arriving late at night, saying: 'Urgently, move from your home'?

Image caption There was controversy earlier this year when UVF flags were put up in the area

"The chief constable needs to get tough with the east Belfast UVF - they operate with absolute impunity in that area and they're allowed to get away with this.

"[The police] need to stand up to sectarianism."

'Stamp their control'

However, the East Belfast Community Initiative, which purportedly "mediates on behalf of ex-combatants linked to east Belfast UVF", said there was no proof that any threat was issued by the UVF.

"Sinn Féin, within their own comments, made clear that the PSNI did not identify the UVF when delivering these supposed threats," said the group.

"It is Sinn Féin that identified the UVF, and others have jumped on this bandwagon in order to push their anti-unionist cultural war."

Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said "paramilitary thugs" were "trying to stamp their control over an area".

Democratic Unionist Party representatives described the threats as "absolutely disgraceful".

"This area has traditionally been welcoming to all and those responsible do not represent the area," said Emma Little Pengelly and Christopher Stalford.

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