>> 20 Feb 2004



Well, the song may say that Suicide is painless but the anguish it leaves behind suggests it is excruciatingly painful for all those concerned. To lose a child in any circumstances must be the most awful pain that a parent can experience. When a young life ends in suicide the grief must be unbelievable. Guilt, self-doubt, a sense of parental failure – these are the horrible emotions that often afflict the parents who find themselves suddenly cast into these desperate circumstances.

North Belfast has experienced a spiralling suicide rate, and has labelled as the “suicide capital” of Europe. During the past week, there has been a tragic tale unfold as one young man, 18 year old Bernard Cairns, killed himself after attending the funeral of his friend, 18 year old Anthony O’Neill, who had also killed himself. Both young men had been brutalised by one of the local paramilitary gangs, in this instance the INLA. Bereft of hope, tragically they must have concluded that death was the best way out. A truly horrible situation - but one which is all too common in Northern Ireland these days!

How has such a situation come about? Why is it that suicide is on the increase? What has gone wrong in our society? Is there a way of helping those who contemplate the unthinkable – the taking their own lives?

Looking at the statistics, it is apparent that the suicide rate in Northern Ireland was in long-term decline between 1982 and 1996. Then it started to rise again. Why?

Did some momentous event occur in the mid to late 1990’s? Yes! The Belfast Agreement was wedged into place amidst spectacular promises of a bright new tomorrow. Such a high-minded vision was assiduously sold to the population as the best way forward, but I contend that it carried a low-down price.

That price was that Government ceded de facto control of entire swathes of the country to the paramilitary gangs. This was memorably summed up by an NIO official describing the brutal murder of Charles Bennett by the IRA as “internal housekeeping.” Taking a life was equated to the sweeping of a floor. Such depravity subsequently informed government policy, and was exploited by republicans and loyalists as they proceeded to houseclean by murdering at will amonst their host community. The peace process had gifted a license to kill to those who wore the balaclava.

Since that time the paramilitary warlords have gained supremacy over large swathes of urban communities. They rule by the usual mixture of fear and violence. They sanction criminality; they act as judge jury, and sometimes, as executioner.

For civilisation to take a grip, it is vital that the rule of law prevails and that it applied equally without friend or favour. No one should be above the law and no one should be crushed underneath its very nose. Yet that is what happens. The rise of the paramilitary warlords, in both republican and loyalist areas, has been accompanied by the corresponding degradation of civilised values.

Against a background of spiralling crime, drug-peddling, high unemployment, parents struggle to cope and their children must see a bleak future.

So what to do? First off, it is vital that Government stops looking the other way. It carries responsibility for the young people in North Belfast as much as North Down. It cannot abandon them to the ferocious embrace of the terrorist mafiosa that presently police these areas. It must act NOW!

The PSNI must be directed to move into these areas, and exercise zero-tolerance with regard to any form of criminal activity. The drug dealers need to be driven out of the area by the legal forces of law. The paramilitary gangs must be squeezed off the streets. There must be a dramatic increase in police man-power and this has to be sustained. Quite where the two-faced hypocrisy of SDLP cries for the removal of the PSNI Full Time Reserve fall into this is unfathomable.

There is also a responsibility on the local community to come out and show that it does not want these monkeys on it's collective back. It has to be clear that it favours the rule of law over the rule of the lawless. Local Church and Community leaders have a role to play here by encouraging this unequivocal condemnation of ALL paramilitaries.

Only by restoring the building blocks of a civilised society can the dreadful problems in the likes of North Belfast be tackled.

It may be a gangster’s paradise but for the aged, the vulnerable, the young and the impressionable, it can turn into a living hell.


Post a Comment

Back to TOP