Ulster peace woman forced out of home

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The Independent Online
THE Protestant co-leader of the non-sectarian Northern Ireland Women's Coalition has had to move home because of intimidation by loyalists.

Pearl Sagar, who founded the campaigning group for peace with Monica McWilliams, a Catholic, moved to her present address from her previous home in east Belfast after she and her husband, Chris, a former British soldier who served in Northern Ireland, suffered abuse from Protestants who felt she was letting down the community.

Ms Sagar moved to a new home a while ago, but she decided not to publicise the matter or spend time complaining about what happened. Instead she says, it made her determined to carry on with her work so that others would not have to "put up with this sort of nonsense" in the future.

She has, however, a long way to go. Her 18-year-old daughter, Naomi, has been asked to stay away from the same Protestant area because her fiance is a Catholic.

The work of the coalition, which seeks to cut across class as well as religious barriers, has been widely praised, among others, by Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and the British government. However, they have become targets for hard-liners opposed to the settlement.

Ms Sagar said: "The decision to move came because of intimidation. It all got a bit much at the end, and I feel rather sad that it happened. I saw no point in drawing too much attention to it by going on about it.

"Naomi's fiance is a Catholic, and when she went into a pub in the same area she was told to stay away. I suppose those people may have felt she would hear something and then the nationalists get to hear about it. But that is, of course, nonsense - she would not have done anything like that. Anyway, she and her fiance have shrugged it off and are just getting on with lives.

"I find it odd that people should put so much stress on religion. When I met my husband, Chris, it did not occur to me if he was a Protestant or a Catholic. It was years before we discussed the matter."

Ms Sagar and Ms McWilliams founded the coalition two years ago and then won places at the Northern Ireland forum and Stormont after polling more than 7,000 votes in their first election. The coalition will be campaigning for a "yes" vote in the referendum and will then decide whether to run candidates for the subsequent election.

Ms Sagar said: "We moved homes a while ago, and one can only hope things are getting better.

"There is a great mood of change and people are fed up with politics on sectarian lines.

"I was not really interested in politics until I joined the coalition, and all we are trying to do is put forward the expectations and worries of ordinary people."

Dealing with diehards, page 6