Thugs driving out families must not be allowed to succeed

Over the years we have seen many incidents of people being driven from their homes because of their religious background or ethnic origin.

A particularly egregious example was witnessed last year at Cantrell Close, east Belfast, where Catholic families were forced to flee their homes in a shared housing scheme.

Only last weekend there was widespread condemnation after a Catholic woman whose son had just died was forced to leave her home in a loyalist area.

There have also been numerous examples of racist attacks and intimidation which have resulted in people having to pack their belongings and move elsewhere.

However, in recent days we have seen something new but equally frightening and insidious taking place in a small part of north Belfast as a well-known criminal gang with links to the LVF has flexed its muscles.

Around 20 people, among them young children, have been forced to leave their homes following up to ten separate attacks over the past fortnight on properties in Ballysillan Avenue.

It is not only the relatively new properties that have been damaged. Vehicles have also been attacked with a van set alight and destroyed on Tuesday night.

Residents were in tears as they gathered their possessions, forced to leave their homes and move in with relatives or find temporary accommodation.

And the reason for five families being displaced in this terrifying and traumatic way?

It has been suggested the criminals responsible want these properties for themselves, which is quite shocking.

The PSNI is investigating these attacks and has increased patrols in the area.

However, those families remaining in the district are naturally fearful and worried about further acts of violence.

According to residents, attacks have been carried out by people who were not masked and who stood laughing as windows were smashed.

It is difficult for many people to comprehend the mindset of those who would laugh as families are subjected to such terror but it seems clear they feel they can do whatever they like.

The police need to let them know that is not the case and they will be held to account for their actions.

We also need to see the housing executive stand firm in the face of attempts to manipulate the housing list through false claims.

Law-abiding citizens who have been fairly and appropriately allocated their homes should be given adequate protection and not suffer at the hands of thugs and criminals.

This is a time for all political representatives in the area to stand together to show support for the displaced families and send a message to the bully-boys that they will not succeed.