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Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world-and never will.
- Mark Twain



Authoring Our Own Scripts


Anthony McIntyre


In recent days a young Ballymurphy man and convicted drug dealer was the victim of a punishment beating. While he denies any recent involvement in drug dealing or abusive activity, it is easier to stumble across a black member of the Ku Klux Klan in this community than it is to find someone who believes him. His mother claimed to have also been assaulted during the attack and is able to show injuries to support her contentions. Over a year ago another son was attacked in the same family home and in the account of the mother she was assaulted then also. Her crime it seems is to physically place herself between her children and those intent on attacking them. The Andersonstown News gave a fair amount of coverage to the latest attack. Even where competing claims were hardly credible the paper reported on them also. The mother, for example, claiming that one of her sons was only convicted in relation to peripheral involvement in the 1999 sadistic murder of local man Sean May because the RUC needed to justify having arrested him in the first place; and the local Sinn Fein councillor asserting that republicans were not involved in the latest Iranian style maiming.

Of some concern is the statement by the Sinn Fein councillor that she is working in conjunction with the Housing Executive in a bid to have 'this problem family' rehoused outside of Ballymurphy. Few in this estate would disagree with her on the turbulent and disruptive disposition of the family. Fewer again would shed tears if the family were removed from the area, for the most part viewing it as a source of relief rather than a cause for celebration. There have been complaints about it for years, most of them true. Two sons of the father of the house were recently convicted of the murder of Sean May. That the family have managed to stay as long as it has amazes most. Numerous interventions on its behalf have failed to alter its relationship with the bulk of people in the community. Visits to imprisoned family members by Sinn Fein activists to discuss a new approach have met with promises only to be broken upon release. And there is no concerted community attack on the family to force it to conform to certain beliefs or values simply because they are prevalent within the locality. People, many of them elderly and who have lived in the area for decades simply want relief from the torment that members of the family continue to inflict. There are young children in the family home who have every right to live in peace free from marauding bands intent on violently policing their siblings. The difficulty is that because the parents continue to provide the older sons with a base and 'safe house' from which much socially disruptive activity is orchestrated, many in the community genuinely feel that alternative housing is the only option. They are simply at the end of their tether.

The concern in relation to the comments of the Sinn Fein councillor, however, is that unless there is complete transparancy in relation to how any powerful group in the community negotiates with the Housing Executive or any other agency in relation to those who live in the community, there will remain the suspicion that the stated reasons for seeking the removal of any family are not always the real ones; that there may in fact be a few hidden and selfish motives lurking amongst the range of general concerns presented to the statutory bodies. And this concern is fulled by allegations in some quarters that in certain cases local republicans have been trying to secure 'key' money in return for facilitating house transfers. Furthermore, while it has never been suggested that the Sinn Fein councillor is implicated in any of this the fact remains that she has been involved in a totally futile attempt to intimidate and pressurise some of her constituents who spoke out against the murder of another constituent. This suggests the existence of an agenda on her part which is heavily embedded in the local power structure and which is not powered by any concern for justice, restorative or otherwise. This makes the existence of the current community charter and its claim to uphold for all 'open expression or celebration of their religious, cultural or political affiliation', all the more laughable.

Moreover, there is a widespread belief - even commented on by Sinn Fein members and supporters - that there is an absence of evenhandedness in the application of community sanctions. What justice is there in a situation where a Sinn Fein associate can defraud a local family of three thousand pound and yet sit in full public view at the election count scrutinising identities on behalf of the party when other community members are brutalised for considerably less?

It is encouraging that the family at the centre of the dispute were provided with the opportunity to publicise their case. Attempts to silence those with a different point of view are all too frequent as West Belfast increasingly takes on the characteristics of a one party mini state. Defying the censors is meritorious and lauadable in its own right. Yet, the case that the family presents falls far short of being persuasive. Even those prepared to listen feel it has all been said before and that little will change; that time will be bought and space secured in which the local neighbours will be treated with contempt and the quality of their lives diminished even further.

The family is largely the author of its own narrative and denouement. Yet if the community is to benefit from its exclusion it needs to write its own script on tablets of stone in order to guarantee transparancy and accountability. When one party armed with unaccountable power can set the community agenda without reference to those who live there it is only a matter of time before abuses occur at the stroke of another's pen. And in this community they already have.


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