past the Rathcoole estate this morning with Kevin
McQuillan, we decided to detour and drive through
it. He wanted to see if he could take us to a
house where a relative had lived before being
forced to leave the area as a result of Loyalist
intimidation. He prided himself on his sense of
direction and to be fair to him it proved the
equal of the TomTom car navigation system.
is about 14 years since I last drove through Rathcoole.
Just out of prison, a friend thought he would
try putting my nerves on edge by careering through
one of Belfast's most prominent loyalist areas.
Then we kept to the main thoroughfare and I was
nervous throughout. This morning was different.
There was no apprehension as we made our way into
the heart of the estate before slowing down outside
where Kevin's relative had lived. There was a
certain surrealism to it. Two former republican
prisoners driving though a loyalist estate just
to gawk at a house where another former republican
prisoner had lived at the start of the conflict.
On the way back Kevin phoned him and told him
we had been outside his old house.
I would not have liked the car to have experienced
any malfunction en route, the lack of unease at
being in the homeland of the late John Grug Gregg
and his violent coterie was indicative of how
14 years had made a lot of difference. The last
time I felt comfortable in Rathcoole was during
my schooldays when we would visit the area to
see school friends or associates from the boxing
club we belonged to in the Markets. Then, unlike
today, the visits were made with a friend who
was a yet to be republican prisoner. That rite
of passage came later to us all.
we were expecting to be met with a display of
loyalist murals and painted kerbs akin to Johnnyville
of old in the Lower Shankill, it didn't happen.
If they were there at all they failed to register.
What jumped out at me from Rathcoole was the cleanliness
of its streets. I remarked to Kevin how spotless
the place looked. Whether the street cleaners
had just been there minutes ahead of us I don't
know. Somehow I doubt it. No matter how many times
they cover the streets of the estate I live in,
the litter seems to be rearranged rather than
removed. There seemed to be no litter on the streets
of Rathcoole at all. The last time I saw streets
as litter-free in a working class estate was in
back through West Belfast we had hardly turned
onto the Whiterock Road to make the climb up into
Ballymurphy when the litter began to greet us.
The more progress we made the greater the volume
of discarded paper, plastic bags and bottles that
lay strewn in the streets.
state of our streets is a frequent cause of complaint.
Parents are fearful of letting their very young
outside the garden in case they get cut by glass.
Quite often it makes little difference as bottles
are frequently thrown into residents' gardens by those
on the drink, either too lazy or blocked to consider
placing their empties in the nearest bin an option.
Even when accompanied by parents children are
still susceptible to being cut by broken glass.
My daughter on a trip to the local chippie with
me ripped her finger just outside the shop as
she leaned on a ledge to peer through the window.
Part of a bottle had been left there in all likelihood
by an inebriated owner.
often the culprits are an unspoken alliance of
older drinkers and kids. The adults leave their
bottles on the street and children find them before
tossing them for the sheer fun of doing what kids
people put the litter problem down to bad political
representation. Those elected to the city council
are accused of not making sufficient use of their
office to apply pressure to council officials
to ensure that adequate services are provided
for the community. How true that is remains uncertain.
It is hard to imagine local representatives being
indifferent to the litter regime that prevails
here and pollutes their daily lives.
residents are from the same social class as people
in Ballymurphy. They have roughly the same amenities
and avail of the same services. Their quality
of life on the litter front at least is measurably
better than the people who live in Ballymurphy.
No one buys into the sectarian nonsense that people
in nationalist working class areas are less hygiene-sensitive
than their unionist counterparts. Our young people
are no more inclined towards vandalism than other
areas. And the extent to which a drink culture
exists here it is presumably mirrored in Rathcoole.
The pride that local people take in the immaculate
interior of their homes is palpable. But for some
reason the cleanliness of the homes is not replicated
on the streets.
it is about Rathcoole there is something to be
learned from it in a way that would give power
sharing real meaning in both communities rather
than the power splitting the communities are being
offered by the political class if it manages to
put aside its internal differences and gets its
collective snout into the trough of government.
As working class areas are on stand-by to be shafted
by the British government on water taxes and rates,
and with no chance of the Stormont cavalry riding
over the hill to save them, they could do much
worse than turn to each other.