Protestants move out of Belfast's war zone estate

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The Independent Online

Betsy McClenaghan stood in silence as her belongings were piled into the furniture vans outside her Belfast home.

Betsy McClenaghan stood in silence as her belongings were piled into the furniture vans outside her Belfast home.

The 91-year-old could scarcely believe she was leaving her house of more than 40 years. "It's terrible, I have come through the blitzes and the 1932 riots but ... I've never known an upheaval like it," she said.

Mrs McClenaghan was among a group of Protestants moved out of their north Belfast housing estate yesterday. The decision to evacuate residents from nine homes on the Torrens estate, following years of trouble between the Protestants and Catholics, has sparked bitter recriminations and claims of ethnic cleansing.

Her granddaughter, Elizabeth Ferguson, 38, was also standing on the street, watching her life being packed up into the lorries. She said: "We're getting forced out of our homes. We're getting intimidated. They wrote IRA on my window and front door. They're forcing us out.

"Where's the peace process? I haven't got a peace process. We never get our say across - the Protestant people never get anything said, it's always the nationalists."

The evacuation of Torrens - the remaining Protestant families will be gone by the end of the month - is seen as a highly symbolic development in a city that has fast-increasing Catholic numbers and a dwindling Protestant population.

Several, including Ms Ferguson, believe republicans orchestrated the localised violence. Nigel Dodds, north Belfast Democratic Unionist MP, who was on hand during the evacuation, said: "Ordinary decent families who are not involved in any trouble or violence have been forced to move out. This is a community being ...destroyed by republican aggression. It is a tragedy, a catastrophe for the community in Torrens that things have come to this stage. Seven or eight years ago it had 150 families."

The Catholics rejected the charge, saying that while there had been attacks on Protestant homes, they did not stem from an organised campaign of violence. Eoin O'Broin, a Sinn Fein member of the local council, said most attacks in the area had been directed at Catholics and were the work of loyalist paramilitary groups.

One local figure in authority said yesterday: "The trouble came from crowds of yahoos. It's low-level thuggery, not a politically organised campaign."

The assumption is that Torrens will "go green", with Catholic families moving in. Only a few houses are expected to be re-allocated by the authorities, since most of the estate is derelict.

Most of its houses have been sealed up with steel shutters. Yesterday, it resembled a war zone, with many vandalised homes, shattered roofs and rubble scattered everywhere. Those now leaving have been living with mounds of litter on the streets and in gardens.

The fact that many departing Protestants have not been replaced has worsened the problems of vandalism and litter.

A Protestant woman said yesterday: "Them ones will get it now. They wanted it from the start and now they've got it."