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    DUBLIN, Ireland (CNS) — After four nights of extensive rioting by Protestant mobs in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, Catholics are living in fear, said Father Aidan Troy of Holy Cross Parish in Belfast.

    “When rioting is taking place, members of this parish can’t leave the area, because access to the main roads is blocked. We’re supposed to be having a novena here this week, but speakers can’t get in to us because of the violence,” he said in a Sept. 14 telephone interview.

    Father Troy said the latest round of violence may have implications for plans by the Irish Republican Army to decommission its weapons. The IRA, Northern Ireland’s largest paramilitary organization, first became involved in its campaign of violence when its members fired shots upon Protestant rioters attacking Catholic areas in Belfast at the end of the 1960s.

    “Local people who know a hundred times more than me about the history of the conflict tell me that this is how it all started in 1969,” said Father Troy. “I’m not justifying the IRA, but if people are coming into Catholic areas to shoot people in their beds, who is going to defend them? The IRA’s intention to decommission its arms is laudable and good, but people are now saying that they should hold back and keep their weapons. I hope that doesn’t happen and that decommissioning goes ahead.”

    Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde said the rioting was organized by Protestant paramilitaries — the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force — with disturbances breaking out in seven different locations in Belfast and five different locations outside the city in an effort to stretch police and army resources to the maximum. Protestant leaders deny the charge.

    Rioting started Sept. 10 after the Independent Parades Commission ruled that a parade by the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternity, could not pass through a Catholic district. The annual Whiterock parade has been controversial since the early 1970s, when Catholic residents along the Springfield Road would riot in protest at the parade passing through their area.

    Although most of the hundreds of parades staged by the Orange Order pass peacefully, a handful that pass through predominantly Catholic districts are bitterly resented by residents, who view them as expressions of Protestant triumphalism.

    In the last two months, sectarian tensions in Belfast and County Antrim have been on the rise because of an increase in attacks on Catholic church and school properties. For instance, an administration building at Our Lady of Mercy School in Belfast was badly damaged after a car was driven into it.

    The worst of the violence occurred the night of Sept. 10, when 30 police officers were injured in attacks that included the use of blast bombs and guns.

    At one Catholic parish in Belfast, weekend vigil Masses were canceled because of fears of attacks on parishioners on their way to and from the church.


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