This week we aren’t going to bother doing a fisk of the Tablet, except to point out a couple of particularly notable zingers. At the front, Ma Pepsi seems to have formed the arresting idea that Dave Cameron’s Big Society has something to do with the writings of the late Raymond Williams. I think not. And at the back, Elena Discourteous reports on a homily delivered by Fr Tim Radcliffe, the Tablet‘s favourite priest, at the latest of the notorious Soho Masses, on the theme of how the Catholic Church is run by a bunch of old dudes who aren’t down with the zeitgeist. Unless Fr Tim has a wild clubbing lifestyle that we don’t know about, he makes for a rather unlikely Voice of Yoof.
But that’s enough of that. For the moment we’ll take a short break from matters ecclesiastical in favour of more local subject matter, for the Andersonstown News has been hilarious lately. This specifically has to do with a little fraying at the edges of Gerry’s kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, the para-state of republican Belfast retains its one-party system by popular demand, but the Provos have been experiencing a few headaches recently, and smaller forces have begun to get a bit more assertive.
On the political level, one manifestation of that is the series of events that have been held to commemorate the Falls Curfew. This has lead the Sticks to raise their voices along the lines of “Hold on, the defence of the Falls wasn’t youse, it was us,” which is of course historically true. This point went by default for many years, not least because of The Workers Party’s reluctance to admit to its military roots, but it’s good to see the path being made a little less smooth for revisionism.
But there’s a different aspect to this which I want to look at, starting with the riots in Ardoyne over the Twelfth. The Andytown News has firmly stated that the riots were the work of the Continuity IRA, which I seriously doubt since the Contos have trouble enough orchestrating themselves. Furthermore, top Belfast Provo Bobby Storey has been making ominous statements to the effect that he knows where the guilty parties live. This itself raises a question – I’ll grant you that Big Bobby is not a man you’d like to meet in a dark alleyway, but if the guilty parties are not scared of Gerry Kelly, who do you expect them to be scared of?
As mentioned previously, Ardoyne is graced by not one but two residents’ groups, and a look at these illuminates matters. Put very simply, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) is the Provo-controlled group, and the Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition (GARC) is the not-the-Provos group. It is alleged by the Provos that GARC is nothing but a dissident/hood coalition with marginal support, but there’s more to it than that. Granted that there are dissidents involved in GARC and that the local hoods will use any disorder around parades to have a bit of crack, GARC actually has real people involved, and enough critical mass to be able to set the agenda locally. If you looked at the peaceful sit-down before the riots broke out, there were dissidents in it – I recognised a few RSF members – but the bulk of the people involved were indeed residents. Basically, GARC has come to encompass anybody in the area who has a beef with the Provos – even people who should really be within the peace process Big Tent – thanks not least to CARA being so tightly controlled as to exclude anyone even slightly off message, like people who don’t approve of the rioters but aren’t too keen on shopping them.
To sum things up then, we have an enclave with a ferocious history and a strongly independent streak; an interface area where loyalist marches provide a semi-regular flashpoint; a smallish but significant dissident presence; a large and combustible population of unemployed youth; top-down politicking from the Provos that has got some people’s backs up; and a functional coalition opposing the Provos on an issue where their ability to control events is vulnerable. That combination is unique to Ardoyne at the moment, but it sets an ominous precedent.
Moving into west Belfast, there’s something interesting happening in the Divis/Lower Falls area, where an unofficial residents’ group has sprung up. This time the issue is over a bonfire. To explain for readers outside Belfast, some years ago the Provos quietly dispensed with the traditional Internment Night bonfires. These guys want one in the Divis area, and claim a leafleting exercise has shown enormous popular support for bringing back the local bonfire. The Provos poured cold water on that, arguing that of course their leafleting got a positive response because they only leafleted their mates. The unofficial residents replied that there’d been a meeting in April attended by Fra McCann whereat the broad masses expressed their boundless enthusiasm for the bonfire. Fra then surfaced to say that yes, he had been at the meeting, but nobody there wanted a bonfire. You can choose who to believe, I suppose, and it could well be that Divis gets a bonfire whether residents want it or not.
But if you want to know the real source of Máirtín’s current wrath, you have to head further up the road. You may recall that the Ardoyne rioting over the Twelfth was preceded by some rioting at Broadway. This allegedly had to do with a loyalist bonfire, which I doubt as the said bonfire was a mile up the road. The subtext of this was the IBA, a gang of hoods who’ve been terrorising St James’ for some time now. Quixotically enough, they seem to model themselves on TV’s Sons of Anarchy, and have been goading the Provos into coming and having a go if they think they’re hard enough.
And it’s these guys who have really got up the nose of the Andytown News, which is issuing ever shriller calls for someone to do something about these rotten wee bastards. Recent issues of the paper have been full of lurid stories about how, for instance, the Bog Meadows are full of motorbikes that the IBA are stealing to order.
For what it’s worth, the dissidents don’t like them much either. At the weekend, it is alleged, a few guys from the dissident ÓNH went out armed to tackle them, except their gun jammed, and then they were lifted by the cops. Cue a lot of cheeky graffiti about the ÓNH and their old rusty guns. They’ve also managed to seriously annoy the IRSP by graffitiing all over Casa Irp.
In a nutshell, this sums up a lot of the problem with the policing debate. We used to hear people like Alex Attwood telling us that the alternative to the Provos controlling the streets was law and order. Au contraire, it looks very much as if the alternative to the Provos controlling the streets is the hoods controlling the streets. We eagerly await Attwood informing us as to whether he thinks this is an improvement.