Northern Ireland news

Contractors pulled out of loyalist area after 'sectarian' graffiti

Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings.
Connla Young

The owners of a Co Down firm have been targeted in a "sectarian" graffiti attack on the outskirts of north Belfast.

The Housing Executive confirmed yesterday that contractors had withdrawn from several sites in the Rathcoole area due to threats to staff.

The threats were scrawled on hoarding near Monkscoole Tower in the sprawling loyalist estate.

A number of tower blocks in the area are due to be demolished to make way for new social housing.

The name and address of one Co Down-based contractor and a woman were sprayed on the hoarding along with the words "republican scum keep out" and a rifle crosshair symbol.

Threats have been issued to workers on the outskirts of north Belfast

Another message read "all workers will be shot."

The PSNI last night said "there are a number of lines of enquiry including a hate element".

The threat comes amid renewed tensions in loyalists areas linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Earlier this month loyalists hijacked and burned out a bus in the Rathcoole area.

It is not known if the incidents are linked.

North Belfast Sinn Féin MP John Finucane described the intimidation as sectarian.

“These threats are unacceptable and have no place in our society," he said.

"Sinn Féin sends its solidarity to the workers who should be able to work free from harassment and intimidation.

“The people of north Belfast are crying out for more social and affordable homes. The people behind this threat have nothing to offer and have no regard for the needs of the local community."

SDLP councillor Noreen McClelland condemned the threatening graffiti.

"I totally condemn such threats," she said.

"I do understand the decision made by the Housing Executive, the safety of its staff and contractors must be a priority.

"Those who issue such threats do not care how this will impact on the residents of Rathcoole."

People before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson also hit out.

"These actions are unacceptable and intolerable for any worker, and should be roundly condemned by all," she said.

"No-one going to work should face threats against their life. The anonymous culprits behind these messages do not speak for the majority.

"My solidarity is with those affected, their families, and the wider community who do not support these violent threats."

A spokesman for the Housing Executive said: “We can confirm that contractors have had to withdraw tenant’s services, including health and safety work, from a number of sites in Rathcoole following threats to staff and graffiti targeting contractors in the area.

“The safety of our staff and contractors is paramount, and we utterly condemn this behaviour.

“We will continue to monitor situation.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “We received a report on Tuesday morning (23 November) that graffiti had been daubed on the site hoarding at some stage overnight.

"There are a number of lines of enquiry including a hate element."

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

It is estimated that as many as a third of its residents were Catholic at one time but throughout the 1960s and early 70s many fled as a result of intimidation.

Several Catholics were killed in the area by loyalists during the Troubles.

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

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