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Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK

Why did three children die?

The BBC's Ireland Correspondent, Denis Murray, reports for BBC News online from Northern Ireland. He says a racist mind-set is to blame for the deaths of three young boys in Ballymoney.

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Perhaps death was not inevitable this week in Northern Ireland. The mounting violence made it feel like extreme violence was more than possible. But no-one was prepared for this.

Three children burned alive in a sectarian attack in Ballymoney, Co Antrim at the end of a week when there have been numerous such attacks on other homes. The perpetrators? Protestants. The victims? Catholics, and those in mixed marriages who seem to be even more hated by the perpetrators.

Even if those who committed murder - no, infanticide - in the early hours did not set out to murder. What is rotten at the heart of part of this society is a mind-set which is racist, pure and simple.

That mind-set is the same as the ones which produce fire bomb attacks on black families, Indian and Pakistani families, Chinese families, Jewish families.

Three little boys, three brothers' lives ended before they had even had the chance to live.

Richard, Jason and Mark. Eleven years old, nine years old and seven years old.

Read that sentence again, and try not to weep.

Violence worse than before

Many children have been killed in Northern Ireland's Troubles, but with the ceasefires from the main paramilitary groups, and after the hopes of the Good Friday Agreement, this kind of violence here feels somehow 10 times worse than before.

The boys' mother is apparently a Catholic, but her partner is Protestant, and the boys attended a Protestant school.

The RUC has said it cannot definitely link the murders with the week-long violence connected with the Drumcree Orange Order parade.

Hollow victory

But a senior chaplain to the order in the area, the Rev William Bingham, said at a service on Sunday that for the Orangemen to have their 15-minute walk along the Catholic Garvaghy Road at Drumcree - from which it has been banned - would be a hollow victory indeed, as it would be in the shadow of three coffins.

He called for all the protests to stop now, and said the order could not control them.

The voice of every interviewee on local radio and television has shaken either with anger or emotion. Some have been on the verge of tears.

On a July Sunday in Northern Ireland, the phrase going round and round in my head is - suffer the little children.

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