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90% of Rathcoole estate had 'connections to loyalist' groups

Rathoole estate on the outskirts of north Belfast

NINETY percent of residents in one of Northern Ireland's largest housing estates had connections to loyalist paramilitaries, a former senior police officer has told an inquest into a sectarian killing.

Roy Suitters, a retired PSNI detective superintendent, said it was "very difficult" not to have associations with paramilitaries in the Rathcoole estate on the outskirts of north Belfast

Mr Suitters comments came during an inquest into the murder of Catholic Danny McColgan in January 2002 as he arrived for work in the staunchly loyalist area.

Mr Suitters led the PSNI investigation into the murder of the father-of-one as he arrived for work at a postal depot.

During questioning yesterday Mr Suitters said a possible suspect was later ruled out despite having connections to loyalist paramilitaries.

"He had associations to people who were connected to organisations," he said.

"But that would be 90 percent of people who lived in Rathcoole.

"There were individuals who visited the flat who were on the periphery of organisations but in Rathcoole its very difficult not to have that."

The assertion was criticised by DUP councillor Billy DeCourcy.

"I think that is a big exaggeration, the estate has changed over the years," said the councillor who has lived in the area for 50 years.

"I don’t think most people would agree with that statement that 90 percent of the people would support a thing like that."

Rathcoole was initially a mixed area having been built in phases during the 1950s and ‘60s

It is estimated that as many as one-third of its residents were Catholic at one time, however, throughout the 1960s and early 70ss many were forced to flee as a result of intimidation.

Former IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands was born in the area and spent his early years there until his family also fled.

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