28 November 2002 Edition
Adams urges support for Short Strand
On the eve of the resumption of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, Gerry Adams addressed a packed meeting in the Royal Dublin Hotel on Tuesday night to deliver an appeal to the people of the city to do more, or to do something, to support the people at the interfaces, the people under siege in Short Strand.
"As I stood in the Short Strand a few days ago, surrounded by the people of the area, experienced people who have lived through these months of daily, nightly attacks, there was a feeling of helplessness," said Adams. "'When is this all going to end' they asked.
"They have been under continuous attack, which the media, in the name of 'news balance' continues to portray as tit-for-tat, and Blair, in illegally bringing down the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, is permitting, encouraging, this siege to carry on."
Adams went on to say, "I have seen, like many of you have done, the film the people of that community have made. I have seen the film showing young people in one corner, cheek by jowl with the PSNI, preparing their missiles, and running through the very police lines, to attack the nationalist enclave, without let or hindrance.
"Our question is, can the British government, which, make no mistake about it, is a unionist government, be forced, cajoled, persuaded or pushed to honour its obligations under the Goood Friday Agreement. This is the big thing we have to face up to.
"We need Friends of the Short Strand, here in Dublin, We need you to invite 20 children from the besieged area down to your community centres over Christmas. We need you to visit the beleaguered areas; they have invited you to come, to stay with them, to give solidarity."
He referred to the young woman, Caoimhe Butterly, last week shot by Israelis as she stood between their army and the people in Palestine. "We have reason to be proud of her. I am asking you to do something far less dangerous than what this brave young woman has done so far away. I am asking you to mobilise, to do something to help the besieged people in Short Strand and in outlying areas who are under persistent attack in their homes.
"This is the very hotel where brown envelopes were slipped into hands. But just round the corner is where Pearse handed over the surrender in 1916, and a stone's throw from here is where Connolly founded the Citizen Army. The Good Friday Agreement, which both governments signed up to, is about the Reconquest of Ireland, about levelling the playing field, but why isn't there the Civic Forum established here yet? What about the Bill of Rights?
"We need you, in your workplaces, in your communities to be mobilising support for what the governments have jointly committed themselves to, which they seek to minimise. The government here only looked to defend Irish national interests, but they tried to avoid any discussion of equality, of housing of health of fair and good employment. Equality wasn't in their script. The growing strength of Sinn Féin wasn't in their script."
"I have no doubt, the completion of the equality agenda will bring about a united Ireland."
Normal life does not exist
BY JIM GIBNEY
"We don't know what normal life is like anymore", Deborah Devenney told the Mayor of Hamilton, New Jersey, Glen Gilmore, in the living room of her Clandeboye Avenue home last Saturday afternoon.
Her house had been taken over, not for the first time, by visitors observing or reporting on the ongoing attacks since May by loyalists on the Short Strand area of east Belfast.
When I arrived she was simultaneously talking to the Mayor and speaking with a representative from the Police Ombudsman's office, who was investigating an attack on an American woman by the PSNI during the summer.
The mayor was visiting the Short Strand as a result of an invitation to do so from Deborah, who met him while she was on a recent NORAID tour of the US and from Gerry Adams, who also invited him over.
Deborah explained to the mayor that normal life has been replaced with uncertainty, with fear. No one knows from one minute to the next what will happen. Ordinary everyday activity like making dinners, cleaning the house, going shopping is done with one ear to the street. All the time listening for a cry for help or a scream of pain as yet another person is injured by a brick, iron bolt, golf ball; or terrified by an exploding firecracker.
And as if on cue, a young boy stuck his head in the door with the message that the loyalists were stoning again. Deborah and Danny immediately rushed out into the street to investigate.
The lad's face was very familiar, although I didn't know who he was. Later Danny explained he was Jackie McMahon's nephew. The resemblance between them was striking. And the similarities didn't end there either.
Jackie McMahon is one of the victims of the conflict, although you will not see his name on any of the official or unofficial lists recording those who died as a result of violence. (He is, however, on the republican Roll of Honour.) Yet Jackie died as a deliberate act of violence. Indeed his family and friends believe he was murdered by the UDR.
On the night of 18 January 1978, Jackie and two of his pals were chased by loyalists along the Laganbank Road towards the Albertbridge, close to the Short Strand where all three lived. A passing RUC patrol stopped Jackie and one of his pals watched as the RUC men put Jackie into the back of their Land Rover.
They arrested him and took him to Musgrave Street barracks, a short distance away from the Laganbank Road. They admitted arresting him but later claimed they released Jackie after detaining him for a few hours.
Jackie McMahon was never seen alive again. Five months later his body was washed up a short distance away from Musgrave barracks in the river Lagan.
At the beginning of Jackie's disappearance his family were not too worried about his absence from the family home because he would often stay with friends in Unity Flats in north Belfast for a few days at a time. But on this occasion, a few days gave way to a week, a week to a month and so on.
The situation was further complicated because the family got reports of people seeing and indeed talking with Jackie. This created a false situation for them; they thought he was safe.
The Short Strand was rife with rumours about Jackie's fate but most people quickly settled on the view that Jackie ended up in the Lagan with the help of the crown forces, in particular the UDR.
If Jackie was released from Musgrave barracks he had two ways home: over the Queen's bridge or the Albert bridge. Both routes were dangerous, especially late at night, from loyalists but the main threat came from the UDR, who had stationary checkpoints on both bridges.
Jackie was no stranger to the river Lagan. He grew up beside its banks and as a boy and teenager played there; although familiar with it he knew its dangers because he couldn't swim.
Jackie was a known republican activist. He had been a member of Na Fianna and later joined the IRA. The crown forces were aware of his connections.
The RUC and indeed the British authorities never satisfied Jackie's family when they asked them a simple question: How did Jackie end up in the river Lagan when he was last in the custody of the RUC?
Will the truth ever be known about Jackie Mc Mahon's last moments on this earth? Perhaps when the situation in the Short Strand settles down the people of the area could hold a community inquiry into his disappearance, similar to the one held last week by the people of the New Lodge Road into the massacre there of six people by the British Army and loyalists in 1973.
The relevance of this story to Jackie's nephew is that Jackie experienced exactly the same set of circumstances as a young boy growing up in the Short Strand that led to his nephew sticking his head through the door last Saturday afternoon.
On BBC's popular 'Let's Talk' programme last Thursday night, Deborah described these circumstances; "We can't use the doctor's, the dentist's, the post office. We can't shop in any part of east Belfast. If we were black the world would be outraged at such racism."
But there is no anger, let alone outrage, from any of the unionist politicians. They reserve their criticism for the people of the Short Strand.
Following the latest attack on the Short Strand by loyalists a few days before my visit, the media reported it in the context of a 'lull over a ten-day period'. The people I spoke to on the street knew nothing about a 'lull'.
They told me the media are only interested when there are bombs going off or shots are being fired. When the cameras go home, they have to bear the brunt of a constant and low level bombardment, which happens without warning at all hours of the day and night.
While I was standing in the street several missiles came over the roofs from Cluan Place thrown by loyalists. Several women, one after another, came out to their doors complaining about their homes being stoned.
One man walked casually from an entry with a silver coloured object in his hand. One of the women had sent for him to check out the object in her back yard. She thought it was a pipe bomb. It was a bomb all right but it was filled with gunpowder, not gelignite.
Another man brought an object forward which had just landed outside his back door. It was a heavy duty bolt with a long piece of plastic clothes line tied onto it to give the thrower more leverage to get the device over the newly erected high fencing separating the two streets.
The Mayor of Hamiliton told me that he had 180 policemen under his command. He reckoned that eight police, four at either end of Cluan Place on a 24-hour watch, could speedily end the attacks on Calndeboye Avenue.
He wasn't surprised that no one in the PSNI or the 'NIO' had thought of that simple yet direct approach. Perhaps that is because there is another agenda and the people of Cluan Place and Clandeboye are pawns in a much bigger game played out by the securocrats.
Ógra backs besieged communities
One of the lads who was showing us around had been up until 4am the previous morning. We were up from Dublin to take a look around the Short Strand and to meet up with our Ógra colleagues from that area, but it was only when we were actually there that we realised just how difficult life is for young people living in isolated nationalist areas.
He'd been awake until 3am the morning before that and 3am on Thursday and >3am on Wednesday. Why? Because he was on lookout for loyalists attacking his and his neighbours' homes; in case the RUC in their new uniforms came around using these attacks as a pretext to intimidate further families who where already under attack; and in case he might have to hose down flaming roofs or steer inquisitive youngsters away from firework-encased pipe bombs.
His experiences arent unique. In Antrim Town, members of Ógra and other young republicans have been doing the same things for the last six months. In Ardoyne the situation is the same.
It has been the 16, 17, 18 and 19 year olds of these and other areas across the north who have been to the forefront of defending their families' homes and communities. It is a story that hasn't been told. For our part, as Ógra Shinn Féin activists in Dublin, it was a bit difficult to comprehend. Here we were campaigning on the price of car insurance while our comrades in county Antrim were defending their very existence. So we decided to do something about it.
We have organised a public speaking tour of eight towns and cities across the 26 Counties featuring Ógra representatives from the above mentioned areas to let the people of Roscommon, Dublin, Drogheda, Castlebar, Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Letterkenny hear this story.
Troops Out Movement Speaking Tour - "Communities under Attack"
BY SEAN MacCONMARA
TROOPS OUT MOVEMENT CO-ORDINATING COMMITTEE
Last week, the Troops Out Movement hosted speakers from Short Strand and north Belfast on a week long tour of England. The tour coincided with the launch of the video "The Siege of Short Strand" of which a 20-minute version was shown at each of the meetings.
On Monday, the two speakers were welcomed by the Birmingham branch of the Troops Out Movement and met with Telling Tales, a Birmingham based theatre & song group whose performances are based on reality interviews. In the evening, they spoke to a well attended meeting in Birmingham Council House. They were interviewed by West Midlands radio and The Morning Star newspaper, who published a quarter page article the next day.
On Tuesday they were in Coventry, where they met cross community religious leaders, the Director of Peace Studies from Coventry University and were interviewed by the Evening Telegraph newspaper and the local commercial radio. They also met with the Conservative Lord Mayor of Coventry, who was sent a message of support from the Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast. More meetings took place, one with the Coventry Irish Society and one with Survivors of the Holocaust. In the evening they addressed a meeting hosted jointly by Coventry Trades Union Council and the Irish in Britain Representation Group.
On Wednesday, they were met in Manchester by the North West branch of the Troops Out Movement. In the evening they spoke in The Friends Meeting House hosted by Manchester Women & Ireland group. On Thursday morning, they were interviewed on local radio and went on to speak to trainees at The Workers Film Cooperative.
Thursday evening brought them to Preston, where they spoke to an audience at the University of Central Lancashire, comprising of students, lecturers and a good turnout of the general public.
On Friday they were in Liverpool, where they addressed a meeting at St Michael's Irish Centre, which was very well attended by the local Irish community, trade unionists and members of the James Larkin Republican Flute Band, who were very hospitable.
The week of meetings was very successful and enabled the audiences to see and hear for themselves first hand accounts of the ongoing pogroms in Short Strand and north Belfast.
"The Siege of Short Strand" can be viewed on the Web at http://www.32s.org