Short Strand is a mere four mile from where I live.
Still, it took about thirty minutes to get there
this evening in a taxi as a result of a detour to
the South of the city to pick up a friend. St Matthew's
chapel which sits on the edge of the district has
a central place in the narrative of Provisional
republicanism. It was there 35 years ago that the
leader of the IRA in this city was injured by armed
loyalists as he and a couple of comrades, one of
whom died, were the only thing preventing the small
nationalist enclave to the rear of their position
being overrun and the residents possibly murdered
and most certainly burned out of their homes. The
British Army had cut off the two main bridges from
the city centre leading into the Short Strand. They
had orders not to go in. The IRA leader, a seasoned
volunteer with over thirty years experience, had
managed to get in ahead of them, in time to coordinate
a defence effort, which he led from the front. The
IRA's own blood on the 27th of June 1970 marked
the line across which the murderous mobs of sectarian
hatred would not pass.
of an IRA driven by a commitment to protect its
own community passed through my mind this evening
as I stood in the shadow of St Matthew's. But it
was an IRA far removed from the sentiments of many
of those who had gathered to pay tribute to Bert
McCartney, who was murdered last weekend by knife
wielding psychopaths as dextrous in their slashing
and cutting as anyone belonging to the Shankill
butchers. People in the crowd with whom I spoke
were scathing of Bert McCartney's killers. 'Animals'
and 'scum of the earth' were terms used to convey
their sense of outrage.
amongst a crowd of what a friend estimated as 1,000-1500,
I sensed that this was more than a vigil for a murdered
man. It was also a political protest. No statements
or political denunciations were necessary. No one
carried placards or chanted slogans. A local priest
spoke through prayer rather than political critique.
It was the conversation in the crowd that said it
all. They want their community cleansed of the viciousness
that led to Bert McCartney's killing. They seek
the apprehension of those who cut short his life.
They oppose obstacles placed in the way of police
investigations. They implore the Provisional Republican
Movement - which many of them continue to support
- to offer no sanctuary to his killers. They want
the many genuine members of that movement to state
clearly, 'not in our name.'
Provisionals were there. Others were not. Those
who treated Bert McCartney with the same inhuman
disdain that Lenny Murphy would have been proud
of would hardly be welcome at a vigil in his memory.
The Provisionals who were there, by all accounts,
were genuinely angry. Angry with some of their colleagues
for having visited this despicable crime on a member
of a community they work to represent. They were
at pains to point out that 'the movement' had nothing
to do with the murder; that those who had brought
so much grief to the community were a disgrace.
some unionists have called this an IRA murder, it
was anything but. The IRA was not an accomplice
to this killing. If, however, reports from the residents
and republicans of all hues are accurate, then most
people believe that thugs associated with the IRA
were responsible. While the IRA was not complicit
in the murder, the organisation runs the risk of
being an accomplice after the fact. Numerous reports
are coming out of 'the east' about intimidation
of witnesses. People claim to have been threatened
by known republicans trying to impose the code of
omerta. One report has it that the local IRA marched
into a club less than twenty four hours before tonight's
vigil and demanded that all criticism of 'the movement'
any of this is true, it paints a picture of an organisation
so absorbed in the labyrinthine pursuit of power
that it has lost all sight of its own origins. Communities
become mere strategic pawns in the wider power play.
When justice is a hindrance that stands in the way
of the struggle, then the value of the struggle
itself must be questioned.
the vigil we made our way to the home of the deceased
man. His body was released today for burial. His
cut face told its own story. Gazing on his lifeless
form I wondered if my own thoughts were shared by
others: had the IRA which selflessly spilt its blood
to defend this area become a home for the worst
possible elements in this society? Sadistic blackguards
who had stepped across that defensive line of IRA
blood at St Matthew's to plunge their knives into
the chest of a man from the community the IRA had
come into being in order to protect.
McCarthy leaves a wife and two young sons. The grief
that weighed down his mother's shoulders was palpable
as we offered our sympathies, self consciously aware
of an 'unbearable lightness of being' occasioned
by the knowledge that her unbearable sorrow was
not on our shoulders. We left the house to an equally
unbearable silence that screamed for justice.