A SINN Fein MLA has been assaulted by dissident republican elements while attempting to quell a dispute over a bonfire commemoration of 1971 internment.
Daithi McKay said he and a party colleague, Padraig McShane, suffered several punches to the head outside a house in Dunclug Park yesterday afternoon.
The trouble began early yesterday in the wake of a dissident republican attack on the house of the chairman of the Dunclug Housing Partnership in Ballymena. He said he and his wife are now considering leaving their home of 35 years.
Barry Gordon, a 62-year-old Protestant, described the 30-strong masked gang who surrounded his home in the early hours of yesterday as "rats in the night".
The trouble was the latest incident in the fall-out over the decision of the local community association to cancel a bonfire.
Mr McKay said of the various incidents: "This has been carried out by anti-social elements within the area. People should be standing up to these people and we will be doing the same."
A large number of police officers and a helicopter were deployed to help defuse the tense standoff at the Gordon family home – which lasted from 11pm on Wednesday until almost 2am yesterday.
Speaking about the trouble yesterday afternoon, a police spokesman said: "At around 1.50pm we received a call to Dunclug Park about an assault on two members of Sinn Fein.
"We are investigating the allegations."
Mr Gordon said: "All they are, are cowards. They came creeping up to my home like rats in the night, to attack my home and shout abuse at my wife.
"They stood and chanted 'out out out'."
Mr Gordon added that he did not feel intimidated by the mob, but "angered".
He said he would now need to sit down with his wife and talk about whether they could stay in the estate.
"It is more about reflection today. We were one of the first families into this estate 35 years ago in October 1973. I am also going to consider my position in the partnership.
"These thugs who come in the dark of the night with hoods and scarves over their faces. Why can they not be men about it and come and face you man to man – because they are not men."
Police said they received a report that a crowd had gathered in Dunclug Park at 11pm.
Police said stones were thrown by a group of disorderly youths and a window of a house in Dunclug Park was broken.
"Police believe the incident was a reaction by a small number of people in the area to a multi-agency approach to the removal of bonfire material. The material had been taken away at the request of resident associations and elected representatives. Attacks on property or individuals will not be tolerated and police will be robust in supporting the law-abiding majority and prosecuting offenders."
SDLP councillor for Ballymena, PJ McAvoy said: "The council had to get a special department in to clear all this and now this is the outcome of it. It is totally abominable that this man had to suffer this in his home."