Fountain residents in constant fear of attack

The Saville Report focised the world's attention on Londonderry, but residents of the city's Protestant enclave of the Fountain say they're under constant attack. CARMEL ROBINSON reports

THERE'S still a siege mentality, says one young Fountain resident while another claims it's like living in the Big Brother house but less fun.

One side of this hillside housing development is shaded by the famous Derry Walls, tall, strong and defending once, but now tainted with the stains of paint bombs and graffiti.

The other side is protected by a huge imposing peace wall creating a small Protestant enclave within the largely Catholic west bank of Londonderry.

Surrounding the entire Fountain are Union Flags, Northern Ireland flags and CCTV cameras. Residents fear walking into the city centre and rarely use public transport in case they are recognised. A feeling of isolation pervades the estate, a "them and us" mentality harking back to the days of the Siege of Derry.

Residents have long been complaining of nightly attacks on their homes, paint bombings, petrol bombings, beatings and intimidation. However recently, they claim, these attacks have increased substantially, particularly since the publication of the Saville Report last week.

And so they are have decided to protect themselves. "We are not vigilantes," said one 21-year-old Fountain resident. "We just want to protect our area."

In his lifetime he has known nothing else but the constant barrage of paint and petrol bombs raining over the Derry Walls, and the fear of leaving the sanctuary of the Fountain enclave to explore the rest of a city that seems alien to him.

He refused to give his name for fear of reprisal but he spoke of how, since childhood, he has been the victim of sectarian attacks because he was recognised as a resident of the Fountain.

"My first encounter was when I was 12. I'd say 90 per cent of the young fellas in this estate have had a kicking before they reach 16," he said.

Standing underneath the massive dark and foreboding walls, this young man received a phone call. "Taigs," he screamed, and with his friend began running past the early stages of a bonfire to another interface.

Whoever had tried to enter the Fountain had gone before they reached the peaceline.

He explained that the nightly attacks had increased. "Before it had been maybe once or twice a week. Now it is every night and right through the night," he said.

"It's not that we're vigilantes. We just want to protect our own property and protect the older people in the estate who can't protect themselves. The police are doing nothing.

"The nationalists are coming in and wrecking cars and the residents are just sick of it. Enough is enough. The whole community is up in arms about it. We're called vigilantes in the press but we're not. We're just concerned residents.

"I can't see the interface violence ever ending but I can see it quieting down," he said, adding that it will always be a 'them and us' situation.

"I've done cross-community work with the youth club before and it's just putting your face out there. That's how you are recognised when you go down the town.

"There's only about 20 or 25 young boys under 18 living here so they don't have a lot of faces to try and remember. And there's a hell of a lot of them," he added

He complained that while there are CCTV cameras around the whole of the Fountain, he said they were trained into their area and it felt like Big Brother. He called for a camera to be erected closer to the Bogside and trained onto the green to catch the nationalists who come up to Bishop Street.

It was quiet during the Saville Report publication last week but these young lads reckon that the republicans on the Bogside told the trouble-makers to behave because the world's media were descending on Londonderry.

"They can control it if they want," he said. "Once the media was away, it all kicked off again.

"When you walk down the street with one of these boys you are called names and spat at in front of other shoppers," said one community worker who has been logging the attacks on the Fountain. He said there were at least 70 attacks that he knew of since Christmas.

A young local girl, Wendy, said she loved living in the Fountain but there were all sorts of problems because of the interface. "They put up cameras on the interface to stop trouble-makers. But that causes its own problems with privacy and stuff, insults and worse."

Alex McClements, formerly of the Protestant Interface Network, says the attackers are getting a lot cockier coming into the estate.

He lives at the corner house on the Fountain about 10 feet from Londonderry's walls close to the pedestrian link to Bishop Street.

His house is littered with the remnants of attacks, paint splashed over his home, dents in the brickwork the result of a nail bomb attack and scorch marks from petrol bombs.

Mr McClements complained of the lack of interest from politicians. "The only time you see them is when they want your vote. When some of this happens they don't want to know you."

Before the Bishop's Gate closes at 9pm they come in and fire paint and petrol bombs, he claims. He and most other residents in the Fountain can't park their cars outside their homes in case they are damaged and instead are forced to leave them in a car park in the centre of the estate.

Paint splashes on the windows of the nearby Alexander House, a home for the elderly on Bishop Street, were clearly visible. It had not been long since the last paint bombing episode and the old people's home had been caught in the crossfire. The pedestrian exit at Bishop's Gate also had wet paint strewn across the tarmac.

There is a feeling within the Fountain that people do not understand how they feel, that they are isolated, even from other Protestants in the city as well as their Catholic neighbours.