Thursday 21 February 2019

Silent as the grave while killers escape

If there's one thing that can be said about the brutal murder of a 23-year-old man in Sligo in the early hours of Monday morning, it is that plenty of people know who did it.

Champion boxer Tom Ward Jnr died of head injuries from an axe after being attacked outside his parents' home in Joe McDonnell Drive by at least four masked men who then drove away in a car.

Those men have friends and family who will, to put it mildly, have their suspicions that the men next to them have committed murder of a particularly brutal kind.

That no one has yet come forward and shared what they know with the police says a lot about the matter-of-fact acceptance of violence which still clings on in many parts of our supposedly shiny and progressive New Ireland, especially when, as seemingly in this case, it involves feuding Travellers.

Is this the special culture which Pavee Point, and its sister Traveller advocate organisations, want us all to cherish and protect? If so, then most of us should be forgiven for thinking that the sooner this "culture" is consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs, the better for everybody, Travellers themselves most of all.

Having said that, the silence with which this latest victim's murder was met is not peculiar to Traveller communities.

Wives habitually cover up for their husbands' misdeeds; parents for their children's; friends and families for each other's. They call it loyalty. In truth, it's nothing more than moral cowardice masquerading as principle.

Just because you're married to someone, or are someone's mother or father, doesn't give them the right to, quite literally in too many instances, get away with murder.

That's the thing about killing people. In the fictionalised variety, murder is usually a secret act, unknown to all others, hidden and harboured in the dark, out of sight, and its eventual revelation a surprise to all. That's what gives the imaginary murderer his mythic air of mystery. In real life, murder tends to be a much more social activity. People see. People hear. People know.

When the police close in, it only confirms what is already common knowledge among the killer's closest circle. His secret has become one they all share.

How ironic then that Tom Ward Jnr should have died on a road in Sligo named after an IRA hunger striker, as it is precisely this collective culture of silence which the Provos fomented for years. Oh, but we're not supposed to talk about that any more because it's all in the past, it's history, forgiven and forgotten, and why bring up unpleasant memories from yesterday when the future's so bright that even the Rev Ian Paisley has to wear shades?

That's certainly what the mother of Thomas Devlin was told by some callers when she appeared on Brenda Power's radio show on NewsTalk last week.

Thomas Devlin? Don't worry if the name means nothing. It apparently means nothing to a lot of people nowadays.

Thomas was a schoolboy killed in north Belfast two years ago as he returned from a late-night walk to buy sweets from the garage with friends during the summer holidays. Two men followed them and stabbed Thomas to death. He was a Catholic. No one but his killers know for certain why they did what they did.

All his parents know for certain is that he was killed for no good reason by people who should be made to pay for their crimes. And they, and police, have had good indications from the start who did it.

The murderers live in the grotty loyalist enclave of Mount Vernon in north Belfast. But so far, they have not been charged, nor has anyone in the area come forward with the information which would convict them, although neighbours know who they are as well as do the police and family.

They would rather provide false alibis and harbour child-killers than do their proper duty as human beings. In fact, not only do they stay silent, but they even, like the local community in Portugal irritated at Kate and Gerry McCann's cheek for daring to still look for their daughter Madeleine, turn their fire on those who have put their community in the spotlight.

As it happens, Mount Vernon has just received a €4,000 gift from the Office of the Taoiseach to help with "grassroots development" -- yes, that old chestnut. Responding to criticisms from the parents of Thomas Devlin that the Taoiseach should not be lavishing money on a community which cannot even speak out against murderers, local loyalist representative Billy Hutchinson had nothing to offer but sniping at the Devlin family for, basically, not shutting up. He even referred to them as "these people". Charming. Old bad habits clearly die hard.

But that's how it goes in Belfast. The worse you behave, the better the rewards, and those who suffered most are silenced.

The nice word for it is the "peace process" -- it was in that much-abused name that several of the callers to NewsTalk felt Thomas Devlin's mother, Penny Holloway, should keep her own counsel. Ms Holloway replied that it had nothing to do with politics, it was about catching people who had murdered a child in cold blood. If a mother's quest for truth is now considered wrong, then it's not peace, it's still appeasement.

We don't have much choice except to go along with the grand project which Bertie Ahern and former PM Tony Blair wrapped themselves in glory for shepherding in.

But we do have the choice not to meekly fall in with the lie that the only way to settle the small, petty sectarian shooting match in the North was to abandon all the rules of democracy and decency, give the nutters what they wanted, and ignore the bereaved parents.

Ulster today was summed up by a report last weekend by the Observer's Henry McDonald, telling how an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs recently attended a meeting with the UDA on the Shankill Road to see how the Irish Government could "revive loyalist working-class areas".

And here's the yet more sickening part: "Members of the illegal organisation stood guard outside . . . to ensure her safety." All hail Bertie the peacemaker! Isn't there supposed to be a police force up there to do that kind of thing?

Thomas's parents, Penny and Jim, are fronting a new poster campaign calling on locals in Mount Vernon to come forward with information. The message is as simple as the difference between right and wrong: "If we knew who had murdered your child, we'd call". Sadly, the moral boundaries have probably been blurred too much in the North for the message to get through. Do Travellers in the West of Ireland still remember the difference?

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