The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
After the street sweeper passes, what's left in the street
Anthony McIntyre • 15 January 2004

Just before last year’s assembly elections I travelled by bus to Downpatrick. Had I been a blindfolded game quiz contestant I would have been unfortunate to be penalised for describing the vehicle I was on as a refuse truck. It was literally bogging. Bottles, papers, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, chewing gum, black gooey stuff that lined the rim of the seats and stuck to the trousers – many of the same seats were also ripped. How the driver avoided wearing a SARS type protective mask was testimony to his sense of stoicism. Perhaps he had been to the doctor and found out he had only a week to live, and the state of the vehicle didn’t matter any more. But what then was he doing driving our bus? I suppose he thought the smell would kill us first before we realised that it was more painless than expiring as a result of him passing away at the wheel. But the least Ulster Bus could have done was issue a public health warning along with the ticket. Roll on 2016 and then it will be Ireland Bus and we will all live in a hygienic heaven ever after. The squalor that Belfast people meet going about their daily lives will be sent packing along with the Brits.

But there is just one problem; the interior of the bus didn’t look vastly different from the streets that we inhabit in the fiefdom of West Belfast, where those who are elected to represent us make promises about 2016. The streets in this constituency too, quite often, are filth strewn. And I don’t mean with drunken politicians pissing into our gardens, and claiming to be only watering the plants when an irate householder tells them to clear off. Is there nothing the truth-shy plonkers can’t spin? Our pavements and roads are littered with what should rightly belong to the city dump at Duncrue Street. Parents, if accompanied by toddlers, scan every step of their journey on foot, navigating a path for their child through the batches of broken glass and what the dogs have dropped. A couple of years ago a letter writer in the Irish News compared the litter strewn Whiterock Road to a crash scene from a Boeing 747. Gross hyperbole - but passable as a touch of writer’s license to underscore the point. 31 years ago I was in Glasgow during a refuge strike – yet the streets of that city looked cleaner than our own.

A while back my wife sent for a councillor to complain – a member of the SDLP. Our local Sinn Fein councillor was away commemorating British war dead or something - as they do these days - on the gleaming brush swept pavements of Belfast City Hall. I would have sent for none of them – what difference does it make? Although in Sinn Fein’s defence, they do come equipped, but it is hard to sweep a street with a baseball bat. Kids standing at corners are higher up the priority chart of our socially conscious elite; better that the street be cleared of the vibrancy of our young citizens than the suffocating stench of inanimate rubbish.

The bins were lifted this morning. Sometimes it looks as if the lorry carting our rubbish away has a hole in the bottom of it, which leaves a trail of garbage along its collection route. The bin men didn’t appear over the festive season, they had got their tips, took some time out and went on the rip. Couldn’t blame them, but the council failed to provide adequate back-up. Who wants to work the holiday period just so some better paid bureaucrat can keep her books right? Complaints were plentiful as residents strove to keep their own little patch tidy in the face of mounting heaps of black bag smothered bins. Apart from election campaigns Christmas is the busiest time of the year for rubbish.

But our dirty streets predate Christmas. Ten years ago a former republican prisoner told me that he worked painting houses in Belvoir. It was always clean, he mused, not like our areas which he likened to a rubbish tip. He blamed the council - it was anti-Catholic. Apart from thinking that he was crazy or desperately in need of money - a republican working in Belvoir - I marvelled at his powers of observation. Watching over the shoulder would have seemed a more prudent exercise than comparing the hygiene of Belvoir with that of Turf Lodge. But given nationalist representation in the City Hall today it is hard to imagine that the council can deliberately discriminate against nationalist areas – a ‘let them wallow in their own muck’ approach. More plausible is that the politicians these communities put in are too wrapped up in British pomp, ceremony and imperialist graves to be concerned with community hygiene. Some of the councillors must say 'if the community vote a crook like me into office, then they deserve the council they get.'

And it is not as if it is beyond even Belfast City Council's limited aptitude and imagination. The type of military precision that goes into campaigns to get many of them elected could easily be applied to approaching the problem that literally plagues our streets. New York, for example, the morning after its New Year party, shows little sign that only hours earlier it had been the site of major revellery; the twenty six ton of rubbish deposited on the city streets lifted by only 100 workers.

But perhaps there is a secret plan at work here, part of the wider scheme to unite the country by 2016. In mid-December, Bray, just outside Dublin, was accorded the status of ‘the dirtiest town in the Republic’ - the result of a litter league table produced by an alliance of Irish businesses - Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL). Industrial pollution and factory waste were hardly factored into its calculations, just the waste of the poor. Nevertheless, as it is happening in both parts of the island, it might be evidence of the harmonisation of waste accumulation as a forerunner to establishing cross border bin men.

‘Rubbish’ is the only response that springs to mind.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

16 January 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Response by the Maghaberry POWs to the 'Compact Propsals for Separated Prisoners
PRO Maghaberry POWs


Horses or Zebras?
Paul Fitzsimmons


The Future of Iran

Pedram Moallemian


Anthony McIntyre


A State of the Union Address

Eamon Sweeney


11 January 2004


A Subtle But Brilliant Use of the IRA
Anthony McIntyre


The Process of ‘Constitutionalisation’
Breandán Morley


A Victory for Extremism
James Fitzharris


Demilitarise Divis Tower
Kathleen O Halloran


History Repeating Itself

Eamon Sweeney


Say What You Like, the Brits Sure Do Know the Irish
Fr. Sean Mc Manus


Rafah Today: Demolishing Houses
Mohammed Omer




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices