must have been the sisters that got to me: with
their instinctive protectiveness towards a brother.
Faces etched with pain and voices buckling under
the weight of sudden and almost unbearable loss
are commonplace here in Northern Ireland, so it
couldn't only have been that.
is courageous dignity on the part of bereaved relatives
particularly novel. No, it must have been the sisterly
love that breached my defences. Perhaps recalling
my own two sisters' fiercely protective attitude
to each of their crowd of eight younger brothers.
the spark, the pleas of the McCartney sisters for
proper justice following the brutal murder of their
brother, Robert (33), outside a Belfast bar three
weeks ago, touched a chord with me, and with many
others as well.
ordinary people, determined to hold fast to their
decency, they were at pains to make clear it is
only proper justice they are interested in, not
the "summary" kind.
in this part of the world, after making the right
noises and quietly thanking God it wasn't us or
ours, we cross to the other side of the street and
move quickly on our way, emotions barely ruffled.
But the McCartney sisters jolted us out of our protective
lethargy and dragged back to the surface again a
basic humanity that has been too long submerged
beneath tragedy heaped upon tragedy.
this casual butchery happened in Belfast is, on
its own, of little significance; it could just as
easily have happened in virtually any town or village
in Northern Ireland. And, outside the political
ramifications, neither is it of particular import
that it was off-duty republican paramilitaries who
were responsible: it could have been paramilitaries
of any stripe.
determines which paramilitary group's members are
beating you to death or to a pulp, not any recognisable
difference in standards of morality or behaviour.
estimated that at least 70 people were present in
Magennis's bar when Robert McCartney and his friend,
Brendan Devine, were attacked. At time of writing,
not one witness has come forward to the police to
make a formal statement identifying the killers.
as the two men lay bleeding (and, in Robert's case,
dying) outside on the street, before being noticed
by a passing police patrol, no one bothered to call
can we take it from that, that everyone who witnessed
the vicious attack and murder, was either supportive
of the attackers or simply didn't care? No, even
in Northern Ireland basic humanity has not yet been
submerged deep enough to be able to ignore such
butchery at close quarters.
it clearly illustrates the extent to which paramilitaries
wield almost total power and control over those
they live and socialise amongst.
control based not on support, loyalty or admiration,
but on an acquiescence bred from abject and well-founded
fear. Where there is power without any measure of
accountability, and particularly where it rests
in the hands of those least qualified to hold it,
it is wielded endlessly and, progressively, with
more and more brutality.
Northern Ireland, as the untouchables luxuriate
in their invincibility, the local communities become
ever quieter. How else to explain the silence of
70-odd witnesses to the brutal murder of Robert
McCartney? How else to explain, in recent times,
the communal silence that followed a senior paramilitary
attempting to rape an underage girl; or another
using a steam iron to burn the breasts of a young
woman; or a "volunteer" throwing his girlfriend
from a balcony while on holiday in Spain? All the
above, and God knows what else, involved people
living within a mile of Magennis's bar.
same things are happening in communities all over
the North, and, as in Belfast, people are too terrified
to speak out.
a display of helpless naivety, some of Robert McCartney's
neighbours, in strictly off-the-record interviews
of course, were quoted as saying: "If only
the leadership knew what was happening here."
was chillingly reminiscent of the plaintive cries
of Soviet and German citizens, who just couldn't
bring themselves to believe that Uncle Joe or their
beloved Führer had any idea what was happening
in their localities.
like Stalin and Hitler, the leaderships in the North
know only too well what happens in the areas under
publicly distance themselves from the actions of
their "volunteers" only when it becomes
impossible for them not to do so - which isn't very
statements from leaders are invariably driven by
opportunism or damage limitation: not any sense
of what is right or wrong. When you are in control,
you decide what is right and what is wrong.
McCartney's sisters have broken from the crowd to
demand justice for their brother, and I hope they
are successful. I hope, too, that more people follow
their example and the walls of silence begin to
while the silence remains, the untouchables continue
to wallow in their invincibility, and we pay a terrible
with permission of the author.