Statement by Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs, on Sectarian Attacks in Northern Ireland
I have watched the spate of sectarian attacks over the past few months in Northern Ireland with deepening anxiety. The vast majority of recent sectarian attacks have been on members of the nationalist community. These cowardly attacks, no matter which community is the target, endanger the lives of ordinary members of the community and their children and must be brought to a halt. They are to be utterly condemned.
In November, I met Danny O'Connor, MLA from Larne, who detailed over one hundred attacks on the nationalist community there. Today I met with Gerry Kelly, MLA from North Belfast, and with some of the people who have been threatened and who live in fear of these attacks. I am appalled at the detail of what I heard. I call on all those in a position of political responsibility and those with influence in their communities to unite in condemning this abhorrent activity and in seeking a means to put a halt to it before it ends in tragedy.
There is now an urgent need to engender the necessary confidence that effective preventative action will be undertaken. The communities need to know that they will be fully protected and that the perpetrators of these vile acts will be brought to justice. It is also vital, where the security services become aware of specific threats, that the detail is conveyed to those targetted fully and immediately. Potential targets also need to be supported in exercising their right to choose their place of residence. Practical steps need to be taken to provide basic security for their homes.
The parties to the Good Friday Agreement affirmed both the "right to freedom from sectarian harassment" and the right to "freely choose one's place of residence". It is imperative that these rights be effectively vindicated for everyone in Northern Ireland.
I have asked the Secretariat in Belfast to continue to pursue vigorously these issues with the British authorities. The attacks and the means to combat them will be high on the agenda for my next meeting with Dr. John Reid, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.