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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Northern Ireland footballer's family home attacked by Loyalists

Politicians clashed today over a series of sectarian attacks in a Co Antrim village after the family home of international footballer Chris Baird was targeted.

Loyalists were blamed for hurling a petrol bomb at the house in Rasharkin while the Northern Ireland and Fulham player's mother and sister were asleep inside.

It is believed locally that the attackers were unaware who lived in the property and only singled it out because it is an easy target at the edge of a predominantly Catholic area.

The petrol bomb damaged a window at the house in Wallace Park at 3.45am yesterday, but injuries were avoided after a passer-by put out the flames.

The incident came as a Protestant family had a bullet posted to them, but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein were at loggerheads over how to end the series of tit-for-tat attacks on innocent members of the community.

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay and his DUP counterpart Mervyn Storey condemned all the attacks, which have escalated as a result of disputes in the area over loyal order parades, but they were divided on the political response to the violence.

Mr Storey said of the attack on the Baird family: "This attack is reprehensible. It is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms, irrespective of who may be responsible, there is no justification for this.

"Secondly, another home was also attacked. A Protestant family received a threatening letter. That letter contained a written threat and derogatory comments using newspaper cuttings, and also - and this is very sinister - a shotgun cartridge was included."

He said Protestant and Catholic families had been targeted in an estimated 25 attacks so far this year.

Mr Storey claimed the majority of attacks were carried out on the Protestant community and he said Sinn Fein were not doing enough to reduce tension.

He claimed the party was paying lip service to creating a shared society, but was failing to deliver it in areas such as Rasharkin.

But Mr McKay, Sinn Fein representative for the north Antrim area, said politicians should show a united front against sectarianism.

He claimed the DUP could do more to put political pressure on loyalists and he called on them to back cross-community talks over parades in Rasharkin.

"Both attacks which took place over the weekend are to be condemned equally," said Mr McKay.

"There needs to be political leadership shown across the board and politicians need to ensure that their words cannot be used as political cover by those carrying out these attacks.

"Outstanding issues in the area, such as the issue of controversial parades, need to be resolved as a matter of urgency to help create a better environment in the village.

The divisiveness which such issues have created is feeding existing tensions. These issues cannot go on unresolved nor can they be used as an excuse for these attacks.

"We need to see all political parties along with other organisations and groups, whether they be community, church or businesses, sitting down and hammering home a resolution and standing united against sectarianism."

The Ulster Unionist Party's Bill Kennedy said: "I believe it is time for community leaders and representatives to come together and resolve this issue and these tit-for-tat attacks before someone is seriously injured. Sectarianism has no place in society and it should be condemned."

SDLP North Antrim Assembly member Declan O'Loan said the petrol bomb attack on the Baird home could have easily killed.

He added: "There are profound tensions in the village of Rasharkin currently. Parade incidents, repeated attacks on the Orange Hall and a number of graffiti incidents are evidence of this.

"It is vital that any information available is given to the police and that responsible community leaders work to resolve the causes of these tensions."

North Antrim Alliance representative Jayne Dunlop said: "Senseless attacks like this harm the whole community and they create fear. Northern Ireland is moving forward and people want peace, not fear.

"The community will be shocked at this and we need to see those behind this incident brought to justice. Anyone who can help police with their investigation into this should contact them immediately."

Press Association

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