Home » Breaking News » Northern tensions won’t die while Foster continues to channel Trump
Anne Stewart

Northern tensions won’t die while Foster continues to channel Trump

REPORTS of rioting across Northern Ireland have provided an uncomfortable reminder for one Clare resident of the long years of violence prior to the Good Friday Agreement.

Now resident in Kilkishen, Anne Stewart grew up as a Catholic in Newtownabbey, a Loyalist stronghold just north of Belfast.

It was one of the areas where young people came onto the streets to antagonise the PSNI last week, and the widely-viewed clip of a rioter becoming engulfed in flames was recorded there.

Anne feels that Arlene Foster has to take a share of the blame for the recent violence, as she feels the First Minister’s language raised tensions beyond snapping point. “Arlene Foster kind of provoked the situation, she was kind of like Trump there for a while, provoking and getting the young kids out on the streets.

“They were throwing petrol bombs at the PSNI, which is ridiculous. I think Sinn Féin are keeping very quiet and picking their words around it, they don’t want to inflame it even more.”

Shannon has a huge northern influence, and Anne and her family were among the many Northern Catholics who arrived there in the 1970s.

In their case, they had been warned to leave their home in Newtownabbey. “Eventually we had to leave, this fella came to the door and said to my father you need to get out and he had a gun at his side. My father obviously wasn’t going to argue with him so we got out the following week and came to Shannon.”

Prior to that she had been on school buses that were stoned and been a child who was referred to as a ‘Fenian bastard’ by neighbours, in what was a very hateful atmosphere.

“At one stage they had to get the British army to assist us going home. There was a glen near the school and these young loyalists got together, they called themselves KAI for Kill All Irish, and they had massed in the glen and were coming towards the school to attack us.

“I remember walking home with this soldier who had a rifle, it was absolutely ridiculous.”

Moving down south was a new start for the family and she says it was a revelation for her parents, who had lived for so long in a sectarian society that systematically discriminated against Catholics. “My mother and father said that the only regret they had about moving down to the South was that they didn’t do it much earlier. They loved it down here, they couldn’t get over the way we were treated as equals, it was great.”

Anne has very rarely went back to the North since getting away from it, but her brother met his wife in Shannon, and they returned to Belfast, where he worked as a taxi driver.

It was one of the most dangerous jobs during the Troubles, and he suffered. “He got shot, he didn’t die from it, but he had shrapnel in his back and elbow. There was a bullet hole in the side of his jeans. He had a soft woollen hat on him and a bullet went right through it, it was that close to hitting his head.

“He survived it, but he never really got over it, his health was never right after that.”

An artist, Anne completed an MA on the situation she grew up with, and she feels that the sectarian bitterness hasn’t gone away.

“I went up there two years ago and I interviewed two women who went to the same school as myself, Stella Maris and they were talking about the situation they went through.

“They were saying that nothing has really changed. One of them said the same people that hated us then hate us now.

“They are passing it down to their children and you have that same tension in Catholics and Protestants, it’s passed down unfortunately. If it all flared up again it would be horrible.”

When she was back in Newtownabbey she felt loyalist paramilitaries had only tightened their grip on the area since her childhood.

Her old school had long been closed, because so many Catholics had left the district. “There was an IKEA where the school was and it was kind of shocking, they had taken over the whole area.”

She says she would be very reluctant to visit the area again in a southern registered car, but she does have a Catholic friend married to a Protestant who seems to be able to live there quietly. “It seems to be okay, it seems they don’t have much hassle anyway.”

More integrated education is a must if the sectarianism is to decline, she feels. “That’s the problem, there isn’t much mixing. If they got more kids going to schools together, they wouldn’t have each other demonised.”

Anne feels that pent up energy due to the long lockdowns may have partly fuelled the riots, but still feels the DUP leader should have been censured.

“She did provoke and she should have been slapped down for that.”

Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

Check Also

Woman rescued from sea as multi-agency operation launched

A woman was rescued from the sea this morning after getting into difficulty while swimming …

error: Content is protected !!