Catholics face threats

July 11, 1997

CATHOLIC students have been targeted in a "hate" campaign as tensions rise in Northern Ireland.

A number of Queen's University undergraduates and student nurses are seeking to move after leaflets were plastered on their homes. They live in the Protestant "village" area of south Belfast where accommodation is relatively cheap and convenient for the university.

Landlords, most absentee, have converted the neat 1930s terraced houses into profitable flatlets ideal for student accommodation. Locals have grown uneasy about the influx of "strangers", and paramilitaries have whipped up their fears.

The pasted-up posters warned: "In the light of current events I the loyalist people of the village/Donegal Road will no longer be able to guarantee the safety of any nationalist who chooses to remain within the area." They went on to state that it would be "unwise to have a nationalist as a neighbour and even worse to befriend one".

The posters hit out at "unscrupulous and greedy landlords" and said they had taken advantage of the loyalist ceasefire.

Local MP Reverend Martin Smyth, Ulster Unionist, said since Sinn Fein refused to condemn IRA atrocities he would refuse to condemn threats.

Queen's University students union took the situation more seriously, particularly after some students from the area made contact with welfare officer Siobham Fearon. Students were referred to the public authority housing executive and the student housing accommodation service.

A spokesman for Queen's SU said: "We should be very worried and concerned that there are sinister elements who would seek to identify non-unionist students, who through pressure of accommodation shortages need to acquire accommodation in interface areas. We are taking it seriously, as we take all such threats seriously."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Nursing said the very existence of the leaflets was likely to intimidate nurses living in the area, which lies halfway between two of the city's main hospitals.

"We would be horrified if anyone felt they had to leave their accommodation because of this. It's absolutely awful, especially when nurses are trying to do good for the community."

Students in the area refused to comment on the threat.

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