This morning concludes this series of women’s voices from inner East. Today I’ve written up the story and views from a young girl in her early twenties, who was born in and lived all her life in the Short Strand. Her story and emotion is compelling, these are her words and views and not my own and I’m incredibly grateful that she took the time to try and share her experiences…
“I’ve always lived on interfaces and I’ve been involved in lots of cross community groups and projects from quite a young age – I love them. Somehow it’s always been easier to go out to those groups and keep it away from East Belfast where I am from, I think if it was local I might find it harder.
I remember the night of the flag vote – none of us knew anything about it. I was at my granny’s house for her birthday and I saw something about trouble at City Hall on the news. I was worried about my mummy and daddy who were at the continental market then all of a sudden bottles started getting thrown over onto my granny’s path and roof. Unfortunately, I’m used to it, but at the same time because it was so sudden and so close – you panic. I was annoyed because something that was between political parties had been brought to our doorstep and we were being punished and scared but it was nothing to do with us.
Over the next few weeks I just hoped and hoped the trouble wouldn’t come East, the East in my view is the most built up and bitter, even compared to other parts of Belfast. It always comes East and then it gets out of control.
When the protests started, everything shuts down in the Strand – you don’t go out, you can’t go out, you’ve no social life, although you don’t want to go out and leave your community. I would rather be there, with my family and my community, only the people who are there and around you understand and know what the fear is and feels like.
If you can imagine when the protests are on at the Woodstock link, on the Newtownards Road and Castlereagh Street – that’s the three entrances and exits to Short Strand. When people are standing there at the entrances to your communities with flags in a crowd, that’s intimidating. I feel like we’re caged and forced to stay there. We’re afraid (because it’s happened before) that a mob will come. I’m not against the protests, but why do it at interfaces, at our entrances to our community where there is a history of trouble?
We feel penned in, by the police and the flags – everywhere…
There are definitely innocent protestors, women, elderly and children, it’s a minority that turn to taunting and violence. I know that some things were thrown from my community, but I feel that people were antagonised by protestors marching around us, waving flags, singing loudly and burning our flag. People say it’s only words or it’s only a flag, but they’ve got their words and their flags which are obviously very important to them and which they are trying to protect. Group stood near our gates and fences taunting us and burnt our flag, implying there was nothing we could do – I think that’s why some people threw stuff. I know that lots of people were walking around our community pleading ‘don’t be throwing back’, to not retaliate, to ignore and not give the satisfaction of trouble. Whenever it started, I saw pensioners, politicians and community leaders all doing this every night and every day there were protests, some people travelled over from West to support us and stand with us, but also to try and keep people in the middle of the Strand – you feel trapped.
These are our people, our children too – we don’t want them making or getting trouble that could ruin their lives.
I was away the night it got really bad, and immediately I wanted to be there, to go home, and be with my people, but I knew I couldn’t get home. I can’t describe it, I can’t find the words to tell you about the fear, panic – being sick to your stomach.
The night of the petrol bombs it had all been quiet and then suddenly there was noise, sirens, fire and smoke – I looked out of my window and it was all black. There’s a real protectiveness about the church in the community, it’s something we want to protect, it was built by our people, it’s sacred – it’s what we stand for…
All this has shown I think is that paramilitaries are alive and well in East Belfast. People don’t trust that it’s over or finished, it’s just brought stuff to the surface.
The whole thing with the flag to me is people having a problem with things becoming more equal and that loyalists aren’t the majority anymore. It feels like that community don’t want us here, they want us gone and they won’t be happy until we are.
It’s hard when you see things on facebook like ‘They should bulldoze the Strand while they’re all sleeping in their beds’ and that loads of people have liked that. It makes me afraid when I am walking down the street that there could be a person out there who thinks that about me, who wants me dead because of my postcode.
What’s so annoying is that we had come so far, we were getting on ok. Now it’s not safe to go to the doctor’s or the bus stop. I was recently followed by a car with someone who had a scarf over his face, I thought I might be kidnapped or attacked – because it has happened before – it’s not safe.
If I could say one thing?
We did not take your flag down – we’re being punished for something in politics – beyond our control. There’s been so much progress – this shouldn’t spoil it, but it has.”