Unionist politicians were today urged to take action after homeless women and young children were forced to flee a hostel on Belfast’s peaceline.
The arson attack by a gang of loyalist youths took place on the Ashmore Street Hostel in Cupar Way which straddles the loyalist Shankill and nationalist Falls areas of west Belfast.
Thirteen families were lucky to escape injury after the hostel’s storeroom was set on fire.
One resident described the incident as terrifying especially for the young children, who had to be taken out in their underwear.
Fire crews managed to control the blaze quickly but the storeroom was gutted while the corridors and bedroom on the first floor were smoke damaged.
The latest incident, which took place at around 9pm last night was the latest in a series of sectarian attacks on the fortified building.
The residents’ ordeal began when one youth was seen loosening a protective grille and throwing a lighted object through the window.
Councillor Margaret Walsh of the nationalist SDLP, who represents the Lower Falls area, condemned the incident and said she would be meeting with the Stormont Social Development Minister Maurice Morrow to urge him to give the hostel more protection.
‘‘I think it’s a disgrace because these families that are living in the hostel are the most vulnerable of people. They are there because they are waiting to be rehoused.’’
‘‘I will be speaking to people this morning and I will be ringing the Minister to see if there is anything he can do,’’ she said.
‘‘And I will be speaking to unionist politicians asking them to give guarantees from the unionist politicians and from the loyalists that these attacks are going to stop.’’
Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Frank McCoubrey of the Ulster Democratic Party, called for an immediate end to the attacks.
Mr McCoubrey, who lives on the Shankill side of the peaceline, said there has been increasing violence in the area in the run-up to the loyalist marching season.
‘‘This was an absolutely disgraceful attack on a hostel which has provided a service to homeless people from both communities throughout the height of the Troubles.
‘‘This interface violence has been going on since April. There have been constant attacks from both sides every night of the week.
‘‘Certain individuals are trying to heighten the tension coming up to the marching season and I would appeal to them to stop,’’ he added.