Monday 24 June 2019

Paul Williams: 'Terrifying mass violence is a chilling reminder that history has a habit of repeating itself'


Probe: Cars left ablaze after the attack. Photo: ‘The Democrat’ newspaper, Roscommon
Probe: Cars left ablaze after the attack. Photo: ‘The Democrat’ newspaper, Roscommon
Scene: The house at which eight security guards were attacked at Falsk, near Strokestown. Photo: Frank McGrath
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

The spectre of men arriving to evict a farmer from his house and land is an image from the darker chapters of our country's troubled history.

But the terrifying mass attack yesterday morning at a repossessed house in Falsk, near Strokestown, is a chilling reminder of how history has a habit of repeating itself.

The sheer scale and intensity of the attack are astonishing. It is reported that at least 20 men descended on the security personnel in what was clearly a planned and co-ordinated operation.

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A total of eight security men were injured, a guard dog was so badly hurt that it had to be put down and four vehicles were set alight.

From what we know so far of this extraordinary incident, the vigilante gang must have had intimate knowledge of the property and that the security team were still in place when they struck in the pre-dawn attack.

The farmer and several family members who had occupied the house for years was evicted amid angry scenes earlier last week.

Eviction at the hands of the wealthy landlords - or, in more modern times, the impersonal banks - arouses revulsion in the collective Irish psyche and this can be traced back to the Famine.

Strokestown itself was the scene of massive evictions around the time of the Great Famine. It is estimated that 3,000 tenants were evicted from the Strokestown estate between 1841 and 1861.

This latest incident at Falsk illustrates that those deep-rooted emotions are still capable of transforming ordinary, law-abiding citizens into an unruly mob, given the reckless use of violence yesterday.

While the details of the events which led up to the forced eviction of the farmer in Strokestown are not yet known publicly, it can be assumed that this attack was mounted as a misguided expression of anger that someone was thrown out on the road in the days leading up to Christmas.

An attack, even one as shocking at this, inevitably arouses ambivalent reactions in many citizens, who see it as the ordinary Joe striking back at the big banks, which they will never forgive for the economic collapse a decade ago.

It is clear that the financial institution responsible for the eviction feared trouble - otherwise, why would it have eight security personnel guarding the property?

Last week, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice reflected the anger that was reaching boiling point in Roscommon when he told the Dáil: "Between 20 and 30 people from the North pegged three people out of a house, two of them elderly, and left them on the side of the road."

He even warned: "Irish people need to wake up, especially if people are coming from the North. We must take them on and stop what is happening."

Mr Fitzmaurice also pulled no punches when he said many people were receiving notice-to-quit letters from banks selling buy-to-let properties. He said: "In my opinion, many of the banks involved are scum."

Yesterday he told the Irish Independent that the situation had "reached breaking point".

There is never really any sympathy for officers of a bank, financial institution or fund repossessing someone's home to recoup any losses. But there is absolutely no condoning such violence that was perpetrated against the security guards.

Eugene Murphy, a Fianna Fáil TD based in Strokestown, yesterday described the eviction as "cold" and said he was concerned for the homeowner, who would be very upset to be out of his home with just days to go until Christmas.

He too reflected on the deep upset that the eviction had caused in the community that he represents.

Mr Murphy said: "This eviction has been handled very, very badly. People are upset at what happened to the family and people do not want violence. I would condemn violence of any kind and from any side."

Irish Independent

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