Peace gives way to terror

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 March, 1996, 12:00am

THE paragraph in the newspaper was so small I hardly noticed it. It read: 'Police were trying to identify last night the body of a man found in a caravan park at Bundoran, in County Donegal, after what appeared to have been a paramilitary punishment beating.' Forgive me for a few moments for trying to shed light on what must seem the most tedious, irrelevant conflict from the other side of the world.

I must have read paragraphs like that in newspapers hundreds of times over the years.

Optimism is vanishing fast in Northern Ireland now.

So-called Loyalist groups have said they are about to start executing 'known members' of the IRA in response to the London bombs.

The spinning wheel of violence is accelerating.

But beneath all the horror of the IRA's bombs and their threat this week to carry on their 'war' for another 25 years, if need be, lies another story which throws a wider - and not oft-publicised outside Britain - view of life in parts of embattled Northern Ireland.

For those who live on some of the harsh estates of the province, a quasi-totalitarian world exists where the terrorist reigns with a vice-like grip.

It explains why the IRA is so terrified of peace and why the vested interests of what amounts to gangsterism hold sway.

There is an organisation in Belfast, money, called Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT).

Admittedly, it is partly funded by government money, but it was formed a few years ago by a brave woman, Nancy Gracey. Her son had been dragged out of his house one day, along with his girlfriend and Ms Gracey's grandson, made to lie down on a patch of spare ground, shot in the legs and slowly killed while the local community recoiled in passive terror.

FAIT used to receive three or four new cases a week of families having pressure applied upon them by the paramilitaries. Until a few weeks ago. Now it receives 10 new cases a day.

The bombs appear to have signalled more than just the end of the formal cease-fire.

They also gave the green light for the paramilitaries to re-impose their grip on the communities of Northern Ireland who had started to enjoy a freedom from their terror during that cease-fire.

The beating, tarring, knee-capping of people it chose to mete its own form of violence upon in Northern Ireland never completely ceased during that spell of peace, but the grip slackened.

While the IRA, in theory, stayed silent, it manifested its presence in new groups like Direct Action Against Drugs, which gunned down those linked with the drug trade, no matter how small their involvement. There was also Direct Action Against Football, which meted out beatings to those involved in friendly matches organised by the police.

The so-called Loyalist side did its bit as well with Orwellian-named groups like Loyalists Against Thuggery which beat up people with baseball bats.

It is a genuine human rights issue, except that the rights in the grim parts of Northern Ireland are not being taken away by a government but by those who would profess to speak on their behalf, the paramilitaries.

The old hatreds, which seemed to be softening during the cease-fire and the great atmosphere of peace which everyone enjoyed, are emerging again.

Families are being forced to move out of areas through sectarian terror.

The twisted rationale of the paramilitaries is that there is a need for them to police their communities because the police will not do so with equity.

Sadly the only thing that can stand in the way of such terror is for people to speak out.

Yet as long as the peace looks doubtful, people will be less likely to do so.