The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Murder in the Street


'I want justice for Gerard, that's the most important thing now. I want justice through the courts.' - Aine Devlin

Anthony McIntyre • 2 February 2006

If 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.

I 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.

While 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 unscathed.

A 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.

Unlike 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 the perpetrators.

Those 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.

That 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 asked for.

Nevertheless, 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.

The 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.

Yet 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.

Nevertheless 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.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

5 February 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Murder in the Street
Anthony McIntyre

The Murder of Brian Stewart
Marie Duffy

Eamonn McCann

President Reinventing Our History
David Adams

End Coalition with US
Michael McKevitt

"Do Not Become Recruiting-Sergeant for PSNI", Reiss is Advised
Sean Mc Manus

An Endless Circle
Mick Hall

The American Dream – Camp Sister Spirit Mississippi
Sean Mc Aughey

Call Centres
Liam O Ruairc

Reaction to GEM Article
Pascal Stil

30 January 2006

One Year On
Anthony McIntyre

SF's Support 'Lay With the People Involved in Robert's Murder'
K Quinn

Our Fenian Dead
Brendan Hughes

Murky Maghaberry
Anthony McIntyre

Rebutting a Defamatory Article
Declan Carroll

Getting the Facts Right
Statement from McKevitt & Sands Family

"Close Enough for Government Work"
Chris Fogarty

Boxing Shadows
Dr John Coulter

When is Enough, Enough?
Mick Hall

Serving the Agenda of Two Masters
Anthony McIntyre

St Pat's Day
Niall Corey

The Letters page has been updated.



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