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10 April 2008 Edition

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Taking Back Our Communities

Tackling criminality in west Belfast

COMMUNITY SAFETY is an issue Sinn Féin is addressing around the country, and no more so than in west Belfast, particularly in the wake of a number of brutal murders such as that of Harry Holland, John Mongan and Frank ‘Bap’ McGreevy.  Here Sinn Féin President GERRY ADAMS, MP for West Belfast, appeals for people to play their part, to stand up for their families against the thugs.

By Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast

I want to acknowledge the frustration and anger that exists throughout the community about the level and consequences of anti-social and criminal activity.
Given what people have come through – the decades of conflict and oppression – it is understandable that we are outraged by the anti-social and criminal behaviour of a tiny minority, including the recent brutal murders of citizens.
All of us have a responsibility to deal with this unacceptable behaviour. Parents, policing and justice agencies, educators, the media, public representatives, all of us have a duty to bring about greater community safety.
How do we do this? Let’s be frank about all of this.
The RUC was never a police service, neither before 1969 and not afterwards.
Family and community values and solidarity were the strength of communities and the basis for community safety, and it worked in the vast majority of cases. Even at the height of the war, crime in nationalist and republican areas was low.
But there were those who pushed drugs, broke into people’s homes, stole cars, intimidated and harassed, and organised criminal gangs. And there were the death riders who killed our neighbours and our neighbours’ children.
After the brutal murders of Harry Holland and Bap McGreevy I heard some people say that they want the IRA back to deal with anti-social behaviour and criminality.
Well, let’s get real. That’s not going to happen.
The IRA made its position very clear when it instructed its Volunteers to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.
And this is what activists who were in the IRA are now doing. They are active in Sinn Féin, supporting and developing our strategies and actions.
They are working in their communities on the streets, day in and day out, and they are dealing with the PSNI in an effort to make it politically non-partisan and accountable to the public whom it serves.
This opportunity was created after years of successfully negotiating the changes to policing and justice.
Of course, no police service is perfect. And constructing a police service which reaches the high standards we have set is difficult given the legacy of bad state policing under unionist and then British control. But we knew that.
It is a big job of work.
But already republican efforts have achieved significant changes and improvements.
The Upper Springfield experience is a case in point.
The Upper Springfield Safer Neighbourhood Forum and Intervention Project have been very successful in tackling crime, improving relations between the community and the PSNI, and in creating a safer environment for residents.
It has radicalised and revolutionised that community’s engagement with policing and the criminal justice agencies and with the other statutory bodies.
It is working and republicans are playing a key role in its development.
Sinn Féin is also working closely with the Upper Springfield Safer Neighbourhood Forum and others locally to roll this model out into other parts of west Belfast, including the Falls area where Bap McGreevy was murdered several weeks ago.
Can I take this opportunity to commend the McGreevy family for the great dignity they showed after Bap’s murder. Our thoughts are with them, and the families of Harry Holland and John Mongan, and all other families who have been bereaved at the hands of thugs.
Already, because of the work of local republican activists and others, over 100 people have come forward to give witness statements in respect of Bap’s murder. That is a positive development.
I also want to commend all of those who work every day in the communities and voluntary sector, in our schools, youth sector and sporting organisations, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. All these people are making west Belfast a better place to live in.
To be effective, the Safer Neighbourhoods projects will need more resources, including more active participation by citizens.
There is little point in giving off or getting angry in the wake of an incident unless we are prepared to do something about it.
Every able citizen has a question to answer: are we going to be dictated to or put down by thugs or are we going to stand together against them?
Undoubtedly, in the aftermath of events like the murder of Bap or of Harry, many people are afraid.
But now is the time to look after our communities, after our family, neighbours and friends.
I would appeal therefore to anyone concerned with these issues to join their local Safer Neighbourhood Project, or if none exists to help put one in place.
Sinn Féin representatives are currently engaged in an intensive lobby with all of the statutory bodies to secure the financial and other resources that are needed.
For example, Fra McCann met with the Minister for Social Development seeking more resources; I met with Paul Goggins the British minister who still has responsibility for policing; and I will be meeting PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde on all of this.
In the last week we have met with the Housing Executive in respect of the demolition of the flats in Ross Road; with the Belfast Education and Library Board, the Belfast Regeneration Office, with the Full Service Community Schools Network, as well as holding cross-sectoral meetings involving all of the statutory bodies, out of which a series of actions have been agreed for the Ross Road area.
Sinn Féin representatives are actively working to get the resources and put in place the accountability measures that will ensure that we have an effective police service which  meets the needs of our community.
Making progress on policing and justice is not something that will happen overnight. It requires hard work, consistency and determination. There are no quick fixes. We are all in a process of change, a process of transition, and the more people who play their part, the more quickly we will see deep-rooted, durable and qualitative progress on policing and justice and in the daily lives of people.
And finally, some politicians, mainly from the DUP, are seeking to use the IRA as an excuse for stalling further political progress, particularly on the issue of transfer of power and justice.
They claim that there is no public confidence at this time. This is entirely bogus. I believe that the majority of people, nationalist and unionist, want these powers devolved now. They want local accountable politicians dealing with issues as diverse as police call-out times for emergencies and the PSNI’s response to crime.

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