NI medical staff get death threats
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Hundreds of staff at three hospitals in Belfast have held a protest after receiving paramilitary death threats.
Tuesday's one-hour walkout came after trade union officials held emergency talks to discuss growing intimidation from republican and loyalist terrorists.
"We've had 700 to 800 people on the streets today registering their disgust at public service workers being threatened," Vincent Donaldson of the health union Unison told Reuters.
"Here are people trying to deliver a public service regardless of religion, creed or colour ... and all they're asking in return is that people respect them. We're the most vulnerable, we're easy to get at."
At the weekend, a group calling itself the Catholic Reaction Force said it would kill three unnamed members of staff with security force links working in the Royal Victoria Hospital in west Belfast and the Mater Hospital in the north of the city.
This was quickly followed by a threat from the loyalist Red Hand Defenders to kill Catholic workers at the Mater Hospital and the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald.
A joint statement issued by hospital management and trade unions declared the threats as "deplorable, evil and sinister" and called for them to be lifted immediately.
The statement said: "For over 30 years, often at times of great civil unrest, workers in our hospitals have given care unreservedly to all those who need it.
"The issue of threats from various paramilitary organisations against any hospital workers is condemned. All those with influence are asked to join in this condemnation."
Northern Ireland Office Minister Des Browne said the threats were "an attempt to hold the peace process to hostage."
Sinn Fein health spokesperson Sue Ramsey condemned the threats but insisted loyalist paramilitaries were behind it rather than republicans, accusing them of "inventing" the cover name of the Catholic Reaction Force.
"While sceptical about the Catholic Reaction Force threat, the reality is there have now been a number of threats from different organizations," she told the Press Association.
"These threats are clearly intended to intimidate people who provide essential services to everyone in our society without favour. They should be allowed to work without fear."
The threats come amid renewed tension throughout Northern Ireland.
Last week, a Protestant civilian was blown up by the Real IRA as he arrived for work at a territorial army camp in Londonderry.
Two weeks ago a 19-year-old Roman Catholic was shot dead by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association as he walked home from a local bar.
On Monday, postal workers in Londonderry voted to resume deliveries which were halted after a threat was issued against a Catholic employee on Friday
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