déjà vu has any substance I felt it
this week. Having spent part of Tuesday in the home
of the late Robert McCartney, Bridgeen Hagans and
their two children on the first anniversary of Robert's
murder, I returned to my West Belfast neighbourhood
where three days later a local man was stabbed to
death. Gerard Devlin was slain in the street where
he lived. It was the second killing to have taken
place in the street in less than six years. In October
2000 Joe O'Connor was shot to death mere yards away
as he sat in his parked car. In both instances the
attackers were oblivious to children playing in
the vicinity. The traumatic psychological effect
on young minds of witnessing murder seems not to
have figured in the psyches of those who think slaughtering
people is an okay way to deal with grievances.
did not know Gerard Devlin. Nor did I know Joe O'Connor.
It matters little. There would be something badly
wrong if the only murders we found abhorrent were
those of people we are personally familiar with.
And those most vocal in opposing the O'Connor murder
can hardly brook the comfort of quietly adopting
a wait and see stance, breaking their silence only
to mouth 'yes but'. Gerard Devlin's murder was a
self-referential, cynical and calculated insult
to a wider community that strives to ensure its
children grow up safely distanced from the shadow
of the knife. There was nothing noble about the
slaying of Gerard Devlin. Plunging the knife into
his back was as sordid as it was shameful, as callous
as it was criminal.
people may quibble about what exactly happened in
the minutes preceding Gerard Devlin's death, some
things seem straightforward enough. The murdered
man had his back to his killer; he was carrying
no weapon; he posed no threat to anybody's life;
he died; two of his friends were injured; his and
their assailants seem to have emerged relatively
particularly bitter pill to swallow is that in Ballymurphy
it is no secret that Gerard Devlin's killer is a
member of an extended family that has seen its own
kith and kin murdered in the street where Friday's
stabbing took place. The killer has witnessed the
devastation and grief that a family undergoes when
murder arrives in its midst. Yet murder was arrogantly
visited onto the family of Gerard Devlin.
the murder of Robert McCartney, the slaying of Gerard
Devlin was part of a wider knife culture. Today
many young people carry knives routinely. On the
day of the murder a court sentenced a man to life
for hacking his victim to death with a samurai sword.
Hardly a week goes by without reports of someone
either being attacked or threatened by some knife-wielder.
At weekends in Ballymurphy Sinn Fein put people
on the streets in the violent hot spots in a bid
to curb the spiralling knife culture.
Again unlike the McCartney killing, on this occasion
there seems to have been little in the way of obstacles
to the PSNI carrying out their investigation. No
riots or politicians on TV criticising real or imagined
police heavy handedness. On the contrary, the PSNI
were pilloried for not being aggressive enough in
pursuit of Gerard Devlin's killers. In words uncannily
similar to those used by the coroner at the O'Connor
inquest a Sinn Fein representative echoed the coroner's
concerns that the police had made no arrests despite
being informed by witnesses about the identity of
who seek to solve disputes in the community through
the application of the knife in murderous fashion
hardly deserve to live along side members of the
same community. These communities are not populated
by cave men and women. Society has evolved and has
slowly developed many mechanisms other than murdering
neighbours for settling disputes.
cannot be stretched to mean that the wider Notorantonio
family can be blamed for the actions of those in
their midst who display a predilection towards wanton
violence. No more so than the travelling community
can be discriminated against because a minority
of those who comprise it may transgress social norms.
Some prominent family members expended considerable
time and effort to have the longstanding dispute
that was the backdrop to Friday's murder resolved.
Nobody has the right to force them to leave Ballymurphy.
But they should seriously consider the option of
leaving of their own volition. It is one of two
acts of generosity they can make towards the grieving
family of Gerard Devlin. The other is to persuade
all of those involved in the assault to hand themselves
in to the PSNI so that the murdered man's partner
can have the justice in the courts which she has
despite every member of the Ballymurphy community
nominally having equal rights, reports are coming
through of a number of houses belonging to members
of the Notorantonio family being attacked by fire
bombers. There is no suggestion that the owners
of the houses were in any way implicated in the
murder of Gerard Devlin. This follows on the heels
of attacks on commercial property owned by members
of the Notorantonio family circle. Nationalists
being burned out of their homes is a phenomenon
that we were supposed to have left behind us in
1969. In a statement issued tonight relatives of
Gerard Devlin have denounced the burnings and called
for an end to them.
killing of Gerard Devlin and its aftermath will
cause people to reflect on the manner in which republican
communities are policed. There is no way that community
safety networks or Community Restorative Justice
schemes can make incidents like the murder of Gerard
Devlin preventable. In fact their insertion into
an already volatile and unstable mix where such
intervention may take on the appearance of neighbour
policing neighbour may lead to recalcitrance rather
than reconciliation being the outcome.
the police, which people elsewhere might be expected
to turn to, seem to have failed lamentably in their
handling of the long festering Ballymurphy dispute.
Relatives of Gerard Devlin as well as the Notorantonios
both claim that the police failed to respond to
serious incidents when requested to do so.
the cops, like them or not, are better placed, trained,
equipped and resourced to deal with serious incidents
than local community activists. It is the same in
every modern society. Republican communities do
not have to politically endorse the police in order
to recognise the immediate need for civil policing.
Sinn Fein, if it so chooses, can maintain its political
critique of policing while simultaneously encouraging
the communities it represents to make full use of
the PSNI. For communities long at odds with the
police, while it may not be the preferred choice,
it is a necessary choice. The alternative is to
abandon communities to those who promote the rule
of the knife over the rule of law. As Martin Luther
King once said, the law can't make another man love
him, but it can stop another man lynching him. It
is far too late for Gerard Devlin. It may, however,
save the next person.