Leading article

Editorial: Intimidation and sectarianism a scourge on society

THERE has rightly been strong condemnation of threatening graffiti which forced the withdrawal of contractors from the Rathcoole area outside north Belfast.

Workers were removed from several sites after threats were scrawled on hoardings near landmark tower blocks which are due to be demolished to make way for new social housing.

Worryingly, the name and address of one contractor and a woman were sprayed along with a cross-hair target symbol and the words "republican scum keep out". Another message read "all workers will be shot".

The Housing Executive confirmed yesterday that contractors had to be withdrawn from the area, including staff carrying out health and safety work for tenants.

Those behind the threats undoubtedly care little for the impact on potentially vulnerable people in the community, as families are denied repairs and work is held up on new housing.

It should go without saying that no-one has the right to engage in such intimidation and it must be hoped those affected receive appropriate support.

Police have said there are a number of lines of inquiry "including a hate element", although suspicion will inevitably fall on loyalist paramilitary elements known to be active locally.

Earlier this month a bus was hijacked and set on fire in Rathcoole, in an attack linked to opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The threats, described by North Belfast MP John Finucane as sectarian, also carry echoes of darker days when many Catholic families were forced to leave the once-mixed Rathcoole district as a result of intimidation during the 1960s and early '70s.

Elsewhere yesterday, it emerged that a man had his teeth knocked out during a terrifying sectarian attack in west Belfast.

Police said the man and his partner were followed by a group of four men in Dunmurry on Sunday night before the victim was kicked and punched about the head and upper body.

A shoe mark suggested that his neck was also stamped on and it is likely that only due to the bravery of passers-by who intervened that his injuries were not even more serious.

It is clear that although our society has travelled a long way in recent years, the scourge of sectarianism, intimidation and paramilitarism has not been stamped out.

Police should be provided with every assistance as they seek to apprehend those responsible in Dunmurry and Rathcoole and a strong message sent out that such shocking behaviour will never be tolerated.

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Leading article