Monday, March 07, 2005

A very different Strand

Anne Cadwallader presents a view of the Short Strand that is very different to the one presented by the mainstream media:

People are undoubtedly angry about the IRA in the Short Strand area of Belfast - but it's not anger at the intimidation of witnesses who might finger those who killed Robert McCartney at a city centre bar on January 30. Far from it.

The anger is directed at the IRA for what many see as its expulsion of a senior member after he was, in their view, wrongly accused of being involved. Resignations from Sinn Féin and the IRA are expected as a result.

Gerard 'Jock' Davison is believed to be one of three IRA members expelled by the organisation or "hung out to dry", as locals in the tightly-knit Short Strand were putting it last week.

As one eyewitness in Magennis's Bar, where the brawl took place, said: “If Jock hadn't had to go to hospital, McCartney would still be alive today. He was actually calming things down.”

That eyewitness, along with many others, said he was prepared to give evidence to the police, but - on the advice of his solicitor - is waiting until they come looking for him.

Like many others in the Short Strand, he is wondering why no police officer has approached him yet, as he is a well-known regular at Magennis's.

Gerry Adams took an unprecedented step last Thursday when he suspended seven party members, who may have evidence on the killing, and passed their names via a solicitor to the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan.

The McCartney family gave this a half-hearted welcome, adding that this was no more than would be expected from any democratic party and was an "inadequate" method of gathering information.

Local Sinn Féin sources in the Short Strand said there was "no turmoil or outcry" in the ranks as the seven people suspended had already come forward voluntarily and given statements to the police on what they know.

From what can be gathered locally, said one republican, at least 30 people from the Short Strand, the nearby Markets area and others from north Belfast have voluntarily come forward, on top of the ten arrested by police.

The whereabouts of the two main suspects, however, is still unknown.

“They are coming under huge pressure from the republican movement as well as the local community and the police,” said one local resident.

Had it not been for the IRA ceasefire - and the McCartney family's appeal for due process - the two individuals believed to have been involved in the murder would, many believe, have been discovered dead by now in a hedge in south Armagh.

As it is, they are believed to have been taken away by the IRA for five days last week for 'debriefing'. Many in the Short Strand expect them to turn themselves in to the police before long.

Politicians lecturing the 3,000 inhabitants of the small Catholic enclave in east Belfast about their civic duty, as well as those reporting on events, are singing from a very similar hymn sheet. The tune is one that people in the Short Strand reject as both inaccurate and unfair.

They say they do not recognise the official account, that they live under the oppressive yoke of the IRA, and one ‘rogue' unit in particular, which has imposed a rule of fear since the ceasefire. Accounts of ‘IRA godfathers' and ‘gangs' causing people to cower are treated with derision locally.

There have been several remarkably detailed newspaper accounts of an event that could only have been witnessed by those directly involved - and none of these has yet spoken publicly.

The reported accounts claim that McCartney and Brendan Devine, who was injured on the night of the murder, had angered a local ‘IRA godfather'.

By this point Davison had already been shipped to hospital, bleeding badly from arm injuries. He said he played no further role in the incident, and was still in hospital when McCartney was stabbed.

Back in the city centre - the official account goes - up to 15 people were involved in the murder. Other accounts, however, say that at most two men were involved in the killing, which no one inside the bar knew was taking place about 100 yards away.

A third man, who had left the bar with McCartney and Devine, returned to tell others that the pair had run off home. Those in Magennis's assumed the brawl had ended, as most do, in injured dignity but nothing worse.

They carried on drinking, while bar staff cleaned up the broken glass and blood from the initial bottle-throwing incident.

There can be little dispute, however, that later that night, one of the two men directly involved in the killing did return to steal the security tape from a camera.

The official account continues that when the police tried to get evidence from eye-witnesses, every single one of them was too fearful of the gang to come forward.

In fact, more than 30 people have so far voluntarily made statements to police, in addition to the other seven arrested.

The reluctance of the overwhelmingly republican community in the Short Strand to speak to police, coupled with their fear of being found guilty by association, led to a delay in witnesses coming forward.

Writers who know little about the Short Strand wrote authoritative-sounding pieces bemoaning its oppression and praising the McCartney sisters' bravery in standing up to the IRA.

Politicians have not been slow to comment either. In the upcoming British election a major policy battle will take place between Sinn Féin and the SDLP over policing.

Constitutionally, Sinn Féin can only endorse policing arrangements with the approval of a special ard fheis.

This storm has broken over the heads of the people of the Short Strand, many of them now hurt and angry.

It didn't start out that way.

After the McCartney murder, and the subsequent heartrending appeals from his sisters, their heads were down.

The community was confused, shamed and demoralised by details of the horrific murder, and they turned out in force for the first vigil as well as for McCartney's funeral.

But as the weeks have dragged on, hearing themselves described as a cowed community, the mood has changed.

Residents said that many who attended last Sunday's rally came from outside the area.

“We're no angels here, we know that, but we have our dignity, and we're fed up with having our noses rubbed in it,” said one resident.

In the past, the chorus has often been joined by the Catholic hierarchy.

Intriguingly, on this occasion, there has been no belt from the crozier, though Archbishop Sean Brady urged anyone with information to contact the PSNI.

“No one needs to tell us that what happened to Bert [McCartney's name in the locality] was utterly and completely wrong,” said one Short Strand resident.

“We don't need the British newspapers or the SDLP to tell us that Bert should not have been killed, that those who carried out behaved disgracefully and should be brought to justice.”

However, residents are upset at the public image of their community, and this may discourage them from giving information to the police about the murder.

Just goes to show how the pro-British mainstream media have tried to exploit this tragedy for their own anti-republican agenda.


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