|Arson attack on a Sinn Féin billboard in Derry|
In recent weeks leading up to the May 7 British General Election there have been a series of arson attacks on Sinn Féin electoral billboards across the six counties.
Since the start of May, however, these attacks have escalated dramatically into a campaign of intimidation and violence, including arson, death threats, and bomb alerts targeting leading republicans.
On May 2, a number of cars were set alight in Derry, including one belonging to well-known local community worker and Sinn Féin activist Sean McMonagle.
Early in the morning of May 5, high profile Sinn Féin member Gerard “Jock” Davison was gunned down near his home in the Markets area of south Belfast on his way to work at the local community centre.
A former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander, 47 year old Davison had been a long-time supporter of the Sinn Féin-led peace process, and worked as a social worker in the area.
Police have so far arrested two men, releasing one, and have ruled out the involvement of dissident groups in relation to the murder, but timing has given the incident a sinister edge.
|Cllr Colly Kelly's car was set alight|
This became clear that same night, when a crowd of loyalist protesters attacked the car of Sinn Féin’s lead councillor in Belfast, Jim McVeigh, as he entered City Hall for the monthly council meeting.
McVeigh’s car was surrounded by a group of protesters who kicked the vehicle, struck it with sticks, and shouted insults about the murder of Davison.
“I intend to make a formal complaint to the police tomorrow and ask that the people responsible be investigated,” McVeigh said in a statement on May 5.
"Sinn Fein will not be intimidated by thugs, we will continue to pursue our equality agenda in Belfast City Council."
Later that night, the cars of two more Sinn Féin councilors Sandra Duffy and Colly Kelly were attacked outside their homes in Derry – one was set alight, while the other had its windows smashed in.
Bombs and death threats
There have also been a series of death threats against high profile Sinn Féin members, including Westminster election candidates Conor Murphy, Gerry Kelly, Caoimhe Archibald and Mickey Brady.
Brady himself received three separate threats inside 48 hours, including a bomb threat against his home, while Archibald received a threatening sympathy card at her home claiming to be from the “Real UFF”.
The Real UFF (or “Real Ulster Freedom Fighters”) is a loyalist dissident paramilitary group founded in 2007 by former members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
|Threatening card sent to Sinn Féin's Caoimhe Archibald|
The threat is particularly concerning as police believe that loyalist paramilitaries are responsible for carrying out a spate of gun attacks in the area in recent months, including the murder of a father-of-five and a number of other violent incidents.
When Sinn Féin MLA and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's home in Derry was attacked with a paint bombs on May 4, however, he described it “an attack on the wider democratic process” carried out by “so-called dissident republican elements."
There were also bomb threats made in Derry against the houses of Raymond McCartney MLA and of Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, which she shares with her 90 year old mother who suffers from Alzheimer's.
|Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams|
Adams criticised those responsible for the escalating campaign of intimidation.
"In recent weeks there has been a concerted series of threats and attacks on the homes of Sinn Fein members.
"There can be no place for these type of actions nor will they deter Sinn Fein from working to advance the peace process and advance our political objectives.
“These attacks are clearly linked to the Westminster election,” said Adams. “Those anti-democratic groups behind these actions are trying to intimidate Sinn Féin members and our families; and they are deliberately attacking the peace process and the political institutions.”
“Those responsible have nothing to offer the people of Ireland,” the Sinn Féin leader said. “They have no strategies or political programmes. They must be resisted and rejected.”
“Sinn Féin will not be intimidated by these groups.”