DUP mayor to meet with loyalist paramilitaries

As tensions rise in Ballymena following the alleged murder of a Catholic youth, the unionist mayor plans to talk to young paramilitaries to prevent further violence. By Frank Connolly

The Mayor of Ballymena has said he is talking to people with influence over those who participated in the beating of 15 year old Michael McIlveen, who died after being taken off a life-support machine on Monday 8 May.

DUP Mayor, Tommy Nicholl, told Village he was appealing to the UDA and affiliated groups, including the Ulster Young Militants, to "pull back from the brink" before there are any more tragic deaths in the north Antrim town.

"I am talking to people with influence over those organisations and who have a close affinity to them. I am trying to get people to pull back from the brink. I have just been to the McIlveen house and his parents do not want any other family to go through what they have been through." He said he would consider speaking directly to the outlawed UDA if it became necessary.

The Ulster Young Militants (UYM) have been associated with graffiti, naming other young Catholics beside the words "You're Next", in what is seen by local politicians as a serious escalation of an already volatile atmosphere in the town.

Michael McIlveen (15) was beaten almost a mile from where he and a young friend had been confronted by a loyalist gang after they left the local cinema on Sunday night (7 May). He and his friend were chased from the Protestant-dominated south end of the town, where most of the entertainment facilities, including the cinema, are located and which in recent years has become an increasingly dangerous place for young Catholics to visit.

With a series of parades planned by the Orange Order and related groups in the coming weeks and months, including some routed near the nationalist north end of Ballymena, there are concerns that the town could become a focus of the type of open conflict that marked Portadown in County Armagh over recent years.

According to Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan, attacks on young nationalists are a weekly occurrence and up to 20 people have been badly injured in the town over the past year.

"There have been some 20 to 30 attacks on young nationalists over the past year. Young Catholics cannot go to the Tower Centre where the cinema, the bowling and the leisure centre are located in the south end of the town, because they are likely to be attacked. On the Cushendall Road, which is near the nationalist area, loyalist men jump out of their cars with wheel braces and attack Catholics on the road. The new generation of nationalists are less likely than their parents to hide their identity and tensions are running high with the coming parades. If the Orange Order is serious about its concern over the death of Michael McIlveen, they should take positive steps to remove parades from the north end of the town," Philip McGuigan said in an interview.

He said that at least two of the men arrested in connection with last weekend's brutal murder were from wealthy backgrounds and that loyalist violence was not confined to poorer working class areas. He also claimed that the PSNI were ignoring gangs of loyalists openly carrying knives and baseball bats on the streets.

SDLP MLA Sean Farren said some nationalists are contributing to the tension by erecting tricolours in their estates. He said in an interview: "The situation is not good and we could be dealing with a Portadown type situation. People on both sides are stirring it up. There are people who are hanging out tricolours. The big challenge here is for all political leaders to do what is necessary to avoid matters getting worse."