This is by way of an update to our previous coverage of the hoods terrorising the St James’ area of west Belfast. I can inform readers at this point that the Sons of Anarchy have been scattered to the four winds. (Although not, I think, the Four Winds estate, which wouldn’t be prepared for that sort of thing.) After that humiliating affair of the jammed gun, the dissident ÓNH went back to the area in force and cleared the rats out. They also rather self-importantly informed residents they were giving them their area back. Quite how this will play out with local residents, who may be fearing that they’ve now exchanged one gang of hoods for another, remains to be seen.
This is something rather significant in terms of dissident politics, if there’s a shift away from harebrained bomb plots and towards populist vigilantism. The vigilante strain is most obvious with the existence of Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) in Derry, taking physical action against head shops and the like; there are also one or two areas where the INLA seem to have cornered the market in punishment beatings. Of course, it all depends which dissidents you’re talking about; there are about six or seven small armed groups running arounds, some of which are still deeply committed to harebrained bomb plots.
At any rate, for the moment the ÓNH seems to be the group with the wind in its sails, or at least the ability to actually do something. It’s said to have attracted some ex-Provos with a bit of ability. There’s a rumoured link-up with the arrestingly-named “Real Sinn Féin”, the Limerick-based group who split from RSF earlier this year after the failure of their coup attempt against the Dalton-Ó Brádaigh leadership. And the St James’ action has led to the texts page of the current Andersonstown News being full of messages lauding the ÓNH and contrasting them favourably to the Provos’ inability to deal with the den of criminality that west Belfast is rapidly becoming.
This of course poses something of a conundrum for the area’s uncrowned monarch, as Gerry has oscillated between issuing bad-tempered pronunciamentos about how the dissidents should butt out, to making statesmanlike gestures of offering to talk to them and explain the errors of their ways. Either way, Gerry may at this point be feeling as if he’s caught in that scene from Jason and the Argonauts where the zombie soldiers spring up from scattered dragons’ teeth. No sooner do you think you’ve seen the back of republicans, than they pop up somewhere else.
Also, there’s some of the usual sabre-rattling going on on the loyalist side. Andre Shoukri, former head honcho of the UDA in north Belfast, was released from chokey a little while ago and has been making noises about taking his territory back. In response, UDA pharoah Hard Bap was moved to publicise the names of Andre’s twelve-strong gang and advise Andre that, on reflection, he might like to take the ferry to Scotland, just as his mate Johnny had done before him. Ah, boys. Peace process or no, some folks still remain unreconstructed, and not in an endearing way.