Northern Ireland news

Father fears son (4) will be orphaned after escalating sectarian attacks on home

James Murtagh and his young son Morgan (4) outside their home in Ravenhill Avenue in east Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.

A FATHER has shared how he fears his four-year-old son will be left an orphan following escalating sectarian attacks on his home in a 'shared' housing development in south Belfast.

James Murtagh said he has been told that "next time it will be a petrol bomb or a knife" after bricks shattered two windows in his sitting room on Sunday night, landing on the sofa where his child had been sleeping just moments earlier.

The disabled 64-year-old lives alone in the Ravenhill Avenue development with his son following the death of the boy's mother eight months ago and sends his child to an integrated nursery school.

They are one of just two Catholic households remaining in the street which was earmarked as a mixed area by housing authorities.

It is close to Cantrell Close, part of the Stormont executive's 'Together: Building a United Community' programme for cross-community housing.

The Housing Executive (NIHE) said it was a matter for Radius Housing while the housing association said where "serious incidents occur we work with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to support our tenants, including identifying alternative accommodation."

James Murtagh show the damage caused to his home when a rock was thrown at his window in Ravenhill Avenue east Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.

Mr Murtagh said the grieving child has been left distressed by the constant attacks on their property - with four cars "wrecked" since July and now the house itself targeted.

"It was grown men who put those windows out," he said.

"He was crying and saying `the bad men, daddy' and I told him `No son, it was a man who had bad beer and he threw a brick and it hit our window by accident'."

Mr Murtagh believes the UVF is behind the campaign to drive them from their home.

"They don't want Catholics in. I'm just an ordinary man with one leg and health problems. I'm rearing the baby on my own. I made our wee home lovely. I was sitting so proud of myself and how nice I have it for him.

"These were built as a flagship (development) and now I'm the last man standing and another Catholic man in a flat on his own. They want to put the UVF in."

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the project was designed "to help us as a society move away from division..." but added: "This man is having to choose between giving in to the worst type of bullies and protecting his young son."

The damage caused to James Murtagh's home when a rock was thrown at his window in Ravenhill Avenue east Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

Mr Murtagh said some neighbours had told him that it is "not in our name".

However he said one person in the area warned him that "if you don't leave they'll take it that you're giving them the fingers and next time it will be a petrol bomb or you'll open the door thinking it's the window cleaner and it will be a knife."

Mr Murtagh said Radius Housing offered him a house in the loyalist Sandy Row area or in a hostel which was up several flights of stairs

"What welcome is a Catholic going to get in Sandy Row?" he said.

"Then I went to see it (the hostel) and asked what it was like and I was told `Don't move in, two people have (killed) themselves and one died of a heroin overdose', but then I was told that that is two offers I've refused."

The PSNI, who have appealed to anyone with information to contact police at Strandtown, say they are treating the criminal damage as "a hate crime".

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