The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
2006 Ballymurphy Pogroms


According to Victor Notorantonio, the attacks on his family last week so far include:

4 attacks on one house on the Ballymurphy Road; another home on the Ballymurphy Road was petrol bombed twice and the occupants threatened; one family member, after threats and criminal damage, was frightened away; a house on Divismore Park was petrol bombed twice; two homes in Dermot Hill were petrol bombed 3 times, another home in New Barnsley was also petrol bombed; 6 homes on Whitecliff Parade have suffered criminal damage, been stoned, burgled, had cars destroyed and been set on fire, with one home being petrol bombed more than 4 times; one of the homes on Whitecliff parade that was broken into, set on fire and destroyed belongs to Victor's 78 year old mother, whose husband Francisco was murdered by the UDA at the same house in 1987; at a home in Glenalina Park threats were made and the house suffered criminal damage; the family's shop was completely destroyed and their hairdressers has been shut down; one family dog was attacked and another family dog, who had returned to its home while being minded elsewhere, was badly burned when inside the house while it was petrol bombed. One of the homes was also petrol bombed while a woman was inside, and death threats have been made to the family.

Anthony McIntyre • 14 February 2006

Almost 37 years after loyalist gangs backed by armed police and B-Specials stormed the Falls and set fire to nationalist dwellings, the unthinkable is happening again. This time in the midst of West Belfast's Ballymurphy estate, from where the nearest loyalist is about half a mile, nationalist homes are being burned by other nationalists and people are fleeing a la the refugees of 1969. Were these activities taking place in Larne there would be a nationalist political outcry, led by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Yet when it happens in their own backyard, the response has been pretty muted. The unionist political parties have said even less. Perhaps their attitude is that every nationalist should incinerate another and in turn be burned at the stake for it.

What is going on in Ballymurphy, and which has provoked such widespread silence, is nothing short of a pogrom against an extended family, some of whose members were involved in the brutal knife killing of local father of six, Gerard Devlin. Armed with the mindset of the racist those behind the incendiary attacks are targeting people because of the family they happen to be born into and not because of any individual culpability they might bear.

Ironically, the most outspoken and persistent condemnation of the arson attacks has come from the extended Loughran family, currently mourning the loss of their relative, Gerard Devlin. Its dignity, resilience and character in adverse circumstances are far removed from the 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no truth' posture adopted by nationalist politicians and the so called community press. Having experienced the pain of recent bereavement the Loughran family seem determined to ensure it arrives at the door of no one else.

In his television interview Thomas Loughran, who was injured in the same incident which saw Gerard Devlin lose his life, framed his narrative in religious imagery. His late nephew was, he said, surrounded as Jesus had been by the Jews in Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ. A Jewish analogy can also be constructed to help narrate the current pogrom. The events at the homes of the Notorantonio family echo Kristallnacht when Jewish property was destroyed in a blitz of violence perpetrated by Hitler's Nazis.

The police, who in 1969 participated in the burnings, this time refrained. They have positioned their considerable manpower and resources in the area but seemingly only for the optics. Their contribution to preventing arson-bent gangs has been negligible, their very visibility underlining the absurdity of their presence. Perhaps they are being faithful to the parity of esteem concept. Useless in loyalist Garnerville, useless in republican Ballymurphy, it seems they couldn't catch Asian bird flu were it to afflict West Belfast.

Viewing events, there are some who see the burnings as the product of a local anger, the catalyst for which was a gruesome knife murder, rather than local republicans seizing an opportunity to exact vengeance on a family they have long been at odds with. Perhaps. The PSNI tend towards such a view. When I interviewed the police chief overseeing the Ballymurphy incidents, Peter Farrar, he was emphatic that he had no information leading him to believe that there was any group other than hoods involved in the arson attacks. His view was that the perpetrators were young people with a specific knowledge of the back garden system of Ballymurphy, enabling them to strike at will and to evade police detection.

Sinn Fein's position is not that far removed from the PSNI. Eager to stillborn any suggestion that the IRA might be involved, the party has been floating the idea that hoods and 'Sticks' have been behind the burnings. While there seems to be nobody buying into the notion that the Sticks are to blame, the idea that hoods might be responsible was reinforced in the nascent stages of the arson attacks when the local dogs in the street were ready as ever to bark out more than a name or two. The bulk of the people on the dog radar screen considered arsonists are not even republicans never mind IRA members. They have been a thorn in the side of the IRA for years and would be more than capable of pursuing a course of action independent of anything the IRA wanted.

Against this is an alternative view which raises doubts about matters being so straightforward. The firebombing spate exudes the appearance of being methodical and organised; planned arson, coordinated arson, reasoned arson, rather than the random outburst or spontaneity that instant anger gives rise to.

Outside a Belfast courtroom on Thursday, a solicitor for two men accused of murdering Gerard Devlin, claimed on their behalf that the burnings were being organised by Community Restorative Justice. The head of CRJ, Jim Auld, was quickly out of the traps to dismiss this. Auld would seem to have facts on the ground to back him. Even in the undergrowth there are no whispers that CRJ personnel are involved.

But the IRA has not proved immune to such murmurings. The Notorantonios are adamant that the organisation is behind the attacks. They point to incidents where they claim IRA members issued threats directly to family members, telling them to leave the area and shut down their business properties. The grapevine, both local and further afield, is abuzz with rumours lending weight to the claims of the Notorantonios. People in the Short Strand, Ormeau Road, Markets, Andersonstown and Twinbrook say matter of factly that it is 'the Ra.' Some of those have arrived at their judgement as a result of the way in which the Sinn Fein press has glossed over and underreported the arson campaign. Locally, the dogs in the street have audibly shifted the pitch of their bark over the course of a week. Some republicans are strong in arguing why the IRA would be orchestrating the pogrom, although weak in citing evidence that would lead a detached observer to share this view.

With each passing day, as the burnings continue unabated, the suspicions that a hidden hand is at play have been bulked out with substance. On Friday evening, if the account of Charlotte Notorantonio is accurate, that hand was displayed. Her home was petrol bombed while she was inside it. She maintains that for days IRA figures had allegedly been observed peering through the windows to ascertain if the house was occupied. When her daughter left the house, the assailants struck. Unbeknown to them Charlotte was at home, saw the attackers approach and ran out to confront them. She says she recognised one of them as an IRA member. Her daughter on her return journey to the family home claims to have identified a number of IRA members known to her pulling off masks as they ran through a nearby alleyway.

If it is true that the IRA is involved, it would confirm the view of its republican critics that it has lost its way completely and has now become the very ogre it initially arose to defend communities against - a hideous mutant that burns nationalist families out of their homes. If it is not involved it, like the PSNI, has done little to halt the pogrom. If Sinn Fein homes were subject to such sustained and focussed attack, the republican community would be mobilised post-haste. Were the homes of the murderers of Robert McCartney to be treated likewise, Sinn Fein would have intervened immediately - and rightly so.

The community of Ballymurphy faces being dragged towards an abyss. An outrage on the scale of the murder of the Quinn children by loyalists some years ago is an outcome that is beckoning if the current torching of homes is not halted. The only honest response that republicans and police could offer in the aftermath was that they followed the 1969 example of Jack Lynch: both stood idly by.





Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

14 February 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

2006 Ballymurphy Pogroms
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Why Ireland is Unfree
Chris Fogarty

Time to Grow Up
Dr John Coulter

The Letters page has been updated:

Time for the End of an Era


Ballymurphy Being Attacked Within


Ballymurphy Slaying


More GEM


UCC Address


Shannon Airport


An Open Letter To Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri (Wherever You Are)

The Irish "Peace Process" Reality and Fiction
Fourthwrite announcement

25 Years On -Commemoration Says "We Must Be United!"
Chicago Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee

Café Vaudeville
Anthony McIntyre

5 February 2006

Murder in the Street
Anthony McIntyre

The Murder of Brian Stewart
Marie Duffy

Eamonn McCann

President Reinventing Our History
David Adams

End Coalition with US
Michael McKevitt

"Do Not Become Recruiting-Sergeant for PSNI", Reiss is Advised
Sean Mc Manus

An Endless Circle
Mick Hall

The American Dream – Camp Sister Spirit Mississippi
Sean Mc Aughey

Call Centres
Liam O Ruairc

Reaction to GEM Article
Pascal Stil

More Spies May be Lurking in Sinn Féin's Cupboard
Anthony McIntyre



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices