Ulster towns hit by firebombs

FIREBOMBING attacks apparently carried out by loyalists yesterday focused attention in Northern Ireland on the continuing threat posed by extreme Protestant groups opposed to the peace process.

No one was killed in the attacks on two businesses in the north Antrim towns of Ballymoney and Ballycastle, but the use of incendiary devices served as a reminder that such weapons still pose a threat.

The planting of the devices came during the trial of a man for the murder of three children, the Quinn brothers, who died in a firebomb attack on a Ballymoney house during loyalist disturbances in July 1998.

The hearing of evidence ended with the judge reserving judgement yesterday. The court heard allegations that members of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force, had planned the attack.

The Rev Ian Paisley, the local MP, condemned the recent incidents but said people should not rush to ascribe blame. However, Sean Farren, local representative of the nationalist SDLP, said he suspected loyalists of responsibility.

One of the firebombs was left at the offices of a Catholic Credit Union in Ballymoney, where it was discovered by staff and carried outside. Another was left at a newly-opened pine furniture shop in Ballycastle.

Over the past year loyalists have carried out scores of similar attacks on businesses and homes in many parts of Northern Ireland.

Although not normally lethal, they often have the effect of localised ethnic cleansing, pushing Catholics to move house or transfer their businesses. Most of the attacks are motivated by straight sectarianism, though sometimes they turn out to be due to personal differences or grudges.