Those responsible for rising tensions in Antrim should learn about its history - The Irish News view

Designed and developed in the 1960s as a new town for those who wanted to live within positive social and economic structures

Jessy Clark
A home in Redford Grove in Antrim that had its windows smashed and paint thrown at it, a specially adapted bungalow was also damaged. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

The idea that families, including young children, could be forced from their home in the Ireland of 2024 by a series of nakedly racist attacks is entirely repugnant, but sadly should not come as a particular surprise.

Vulnerable individuals from different backgrounds have been increasingly targeted on both sides of the border, and some of the most serious recent incidents have taken place in Antrim.

The perpetrators may not know or care about the history of their area, but they really should be made aware that Antrim was designed and developed from the 1960s as an officially recognised new town.

All the plans were based on achieving a huge influx who would be happy to live and work in a location with positive social and economic structures, as part of a wider attempt to attract people away from sub-standard housing conditions and, it was accepted, sectarian tensions in Belfast and elsewhere.

The scheme initially progressed well, with a good community spirit fostered in many of the large estates at the heart of the new town concept, but was hit by unexpected manufacturing declines and other factors.

Although Antrim today is not the centre which was perhaps naively envisaged half a century ago, the vast majority of its residents have adapted to the changing times, are friendly with their neighbours and understand why it is among the last places in Ireland where there should be objections to newcomers.

A small group clings to more malign attitudes, is prepared to resort to intimidation and violence and has been responsible for some appalling acts over recent months, with the case of nine-year-old Jessy Clark, who suffers from spina bifida and a range of other medical conditions, causing widespread revulsion.

He and his family were due to move into a bungalow specially converted to facilitate both his wheelchair and his complex needs, until it was wrecked by loyalist elements, who claimed they were opposed to outsiders, even though Jessy already lives in the same town, but were plainly motivated by hatred of the religiously mixed nature of his family.

While Jessy’s relatives, including his formidable great grandmothers, deserve great credit for their determination to retain their new home, and will hopefully be left there in peace, the same set of loyalist thugs has succeeded in viciously compelling several blameless African families to leave a nearby house, with others also threatened.

The culprits have been linked to the illegal LVF, as we reported this week, and it is essential that they should be pursued rigorously by the authorities. Even if it is a forlorn suggestion, they would also benefit from a little education on the evolution of their own town.