Ian Bothwell, Director of Crossfire Trust in Darkley, was speaking after a masked gang with baseball bats and a crowbar broke into a house in nearby Keady and beat the householder.
Last week the PSNI appealed for information about what they described as an aggravated burglary at residential premises at the St Matthews Estate area of the town, on Thursday 18 November.
Police said that shortly after 7:50pm, three masked men entered a house,one man armed with a baseball bat and one man armed with a crowbar. Police said the male occupant, who was in his 20s, was lying on a sofa, and was struck a number of times with the baseball bat. “The men then left the property following the incident,” police said.
However Mr Bothwell has now claimed that the attack was overtly sectarian and included a death threat.
He said that the gang told their victim that he came from Darkley House - his base - which they described as “a Protestant house” adding that the victim was “a protestant living in St Matthew estate”, which they described as “a Republican estate”. Mr Bothwell said they gave their victim “24 hrs to get out or be shot”.
Mr Bothwell said: “This has left me stunned and after a lot of thought I decided to go public myself and challenge this situation and the three people especially as I don’t think that it is wholesome or contributes to a peaceful united society.
“If they are right and an estate is Republican and Protestants can’t live there then what happens when a town becomes Republican - where do the Protestants live?”
He added: “These three people are very different to the Republicans that I know and love in South Armagh. The Republicans I know are secure in their beliefs, culture and identity and would be the first to reach a hand of friendship over the garden fence to welcome a new neighbour, even if they were Protestant.
“My concern is that if these people operate with such speed and it is not challenged they may think that it is their role to deliver their judgement on an innocent guy, playing his PlayStation and enjoying his new home.
“Also, if political leaders remain silent and do not support, defend and expose this injustice then their silence can be interpreted in support of such crimes.”
He noted that the base he works from - Darkely House just outside Keady - has been a place of welcome, hospitality and support for people since Crossfire purchased the property in 1986.
“We have had more Catholics and Republicans staying than Protestants and have helped people recover and journey to a better place. We want to continue to do this and do not want their choice of housing restricted because they came from what has been referred to as a so-called ‘Protestant house’.”
He said he had “expected a phone call at least” from elected representatives about the issue.
Mr Bothell said his friend chose to live in St Matthew Estate’s as he wanted to stay close to Darkley House for community support and to volunteer in the Crossfire Trust charity shop in Crossmaglen.
“I was chuffed when he chose to live locally and in doing so created a big endorsement to the people of St Matthew estate that an outsider can move in, feel safe and be at home,” he said. “We need to discover how to be at peace together and how to live well and let others live too.”
The News Letter invited several parties to comment today.
SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty told the News Letter: “I was shocked to learn of this violent incident and my thoughts go out to the young man who was injured as a result of this callous attack. Everyone should feel safe in their own home and there is no place in our community for armed or masked men roaming the streets.
“If the claims around a sectarian motivation for this incident are true, then it adds another sinister element to this attack. We want to build a shared society where everyone can live and work together, side by side as one community. If anyone is being threatened or forced to leave an area because of their religion, it must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
“I have been in contact with local residents and representatives in the voluntary sector to offer my full support to the victim of this crime. I would urge anyone with any information relating to this incident to come forward and share it with the police to help with their investigation. Those responsible for this attack must be brought to justice and prevented from carrying out further heinous and cowardly crimes.”
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.