LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A 28-year-old man in Northern Ireland was charged on Wednesday in the attack on Sunday of a Catholic man, who was dragged from his car – while a woman and two-year-old baby were in the back seat – and assaulted by a group of seven Protestant men.
Another passenger was also assaulted, but not seriously injured. Police said it was “clearly a sectarian-motivated attack.”
The person was arrested on suspicion of crimes including assault and criminal damage.
The victim was most probably identified as being Catholic because of the sports jersey he was wearing – Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland usually support different teams – and dragged from the passenger seat of the car while stopped at a red light.
The front windscreen of the Renault Clio was smashed and up to eight men dragged the man from the front passenger seat of the car as it stopped at traffic lights.
“He was set upon by seven other males who punched and kicked him repeatedly. They damaged his car, and inside his car was a two-month-old baby who could have been injured,” said Chief Inspector Jon Burrows of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
“I am grateful today that we are not looking at a sectarian murder,” he added, calling the perpetrators “cowardly.”
July is the beginning of the traditional “marching season” in Northern Ireland, where Protestant Loyalists hold parades to mark the Protestant victory over Catholic forces in Ireland in 1690 after William of Orange and Mary II were given the throne after the Catholic James II was deposed.
These parades often take place in Catholic neighborhoods and have been the cause of sectarian violence in the past.
Burrows said the “stakes can be high whenever the tension rises and people act irresponsibly.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland was founded in 2001 as the successor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was almost exclusively Protestant and not trusted by Catholics.
This gave space for the Irish Republican Army to mete out its own form of justice in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland. The PSNI now has the support of all parties in the territory, including Sinn Féin, which traditionally had ties to the IRA.
Burrows said there have been a number of sectarian crimes in the Craigavon and Portadown areas recently, including illegal bonfires and an attack on a Republican memorial.
“These are unacceptable and will be thoroughly investigated. I want to reassure the community we are doing everything we can to keep the peace, ensure we have good relations, and we have a peaceful summer – and we are working with communities and partners to do that,” he said.
“Let us be clear, we work hard with communities and partners for good relations and peaceful summers, however, actions have consequences for those who break the law,” the police officer said.
“I am calling on everyone to keep cool heads: Parents exercise influence; those with influence in communities to use it for good purposes, and if you have any information on any of those crimes, tell the police directly or anonymously via Crimestoppers,” he said.