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Violent Incidents in West Belfast on 6 November 2016

Matter of the Day – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 4:00 pm, 7th November 2016

Mr Alex Attwood has been given leave to make a statement on the violent incidents in west Belfast on 6 November 2016 that fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members called will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject.

Before we begin, I advise Members of the need to take care in their contributions today. I say that because it has been reported in the media that there has been an arrest in connection with one of the incidents. In accordance with my responsibilities under Standing Order 73, I caution Members to be particularly careful that they say nothing in their contribution that might prejudice the outcome of those active legal proceedings. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order on this or any other matter until the item of business has been concluded.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is important that this Matter of the Day was accepted, because it is important that the House shows its support for and solidarity with not just one family, arising from last night's terrible incident, but other families who, in recent weeks, have also lost a loved one and are grieving. It is important that the House has the opportunity to send a united statement of support and solidarity to those families and to people in West Belfast who have been witnesses to, close to or affected one way or the other by the recent killings in the constituency and by other incidents there over the last number of weeks, including a purported paramilitary attack last night not far from the scene of the latest killing.

It is also important that we take the opportunity to stand in solidarity with the people of West Belfast, who, over many, many years and in recent days, have continued to show resilience and fortitude in the face of people who are involved in activities that are utterly unrepresentative of and against the wishes of the community of West Belfast. Those involved in the purported paramilitary incidents represent nobody but themselves and act solely on behalf of themselves. They are on the backs of the people, and the organisations involved in activities up to and including murder should get off the backs of the people because the people have no time or place for what they do.

It is also important to say to everybody — every citizen, every organisation and every community representative — that any genuine information needs to be brought to the attention of the police. The police said last week that, in respect of the tragic murder of Joe Reilly, they were following active lines of investigation. Given that the police have said that, there is a responsibility on each and every citizen with any genuine information to provide that to the police in order to ensure that those responsible for any and all of the recent terrible activities are identified, arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for the crimes that they have committed.

Last night's incident was another terrible one, and it involved a man who, by all accounts, was very well regarded and well known. The House should send to his family and all families affected its sympathy and condolences.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I echo Alex Attwood's words. Over the past number of weeks, a number of incidents have taken place in West Belfast in which young people have been shot by people who represent nobody. Last night, as word travelled round, I received several calls from people in and around the Springfield Road, informing me that someone had been shot. They pointed out to me that these people represent nobody. After another incident last week, my colleague Jennifer McCann told these people to get off our backs and that we were about building for the future, not dragging people back to the past.

I received phone calls last night from residents of Divis Tower to inform me that an incident had taken place and that a body had been found in suspicious circumstances. I was in Divis Tower this morning, and people were shocked to learn that James Hughes had died in those circumstances. I have known James Hughes for many years. He was a huge man in stature. He was also a very gentle human being. He was a very spiritual man, who had a good word for everyone. I know that Alex Maskey knows the family very well. I send our deepest sympathy to his family for what has happened and ask the Chamber to stand with us in sending our deepest respect and sympathy for the loss of a loved one.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I want to place on record the deep sadness of the Alliance Party at the news of the murder of Mr Hughes last night. We condemn the murder in the strongest terms and commend the PSNI for its swift action in bringing forward its investigation. We encourage any witnesses to cooperate with the police in any way they can to bring forward information. Justice has to be done for the victim and his friends and family, who have our sympathy.

I also want to place on record our complete revulsion at the paramilitary-style attack on a young man in west Belfast last night. I pay tribute to the health service, which is caring for him, and reiterate our call for the complete and absolute end to all paramilitary activity.

Photo of Andy Allen Andy Allen UUP

I thank the Member for West Belfast for bringing this very important matter to the House. It is with disappointment that, once again, we in the House are discussing evil and bad matters in Northern Ireland and not the good that Northern Ireland has to offer.

My sympathies are with the family of the man who has lost his life, and I urge anyone with any information about the shootings and violent incidents in west Belfast or, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland to bring that forward in an attempt to help us remove these individuals from our streets. As a society, we must do much more than just condemn these incidents. We must work together and show solidarity with the victims. No matter what they are alleged to have done or what they were involved in, it does not give anybody an excuse to take the law into their own hands. They must be removed from society and taken off our streets.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I offer my absolute condemnation of the shooting in the Springfield area of west Belfast last night. We are not sure why it happened, and the usual rumours are swilling around. I want to point out that I find it incredibly ironic that groups that are critical of repression, often rightly so, are willing to engage in a so-called punishment system that even the most hard-right of governments would blush at. It is a system based on punishment without trial or jury. It is wrong, unjust and needs to stop. More than that, it has to be said that punishment shootings and killings do not work. They have nothing to do with ending crime, improving communities or lifting them out of the misery and isolation they often find themselves in. Instead, they have everything to do with the control of communities and with who is top dog and gets to control whatever spoils are to be made.

It starts with the shooting of someone who is alleged to be drug dealing or engaged in antisocial behaviour. Some people will turn a blind eye and might say that he or she deserved it. What happens when you get involved in an argument with one of those paramilitaries or fall foul of them for some asinine reason? You too will find yourself before that punishment system with no trial, no jury and no right of appeal. It happens to people and ruins people's lives, and that is why we cannot give an inch to it.

There is no place for guns on the streets of west Belfast, or anywhere else for that matter, be they in the hands of paramilitaries or those in the payment of the state. People Before Profit is very clear on that. We are for the disbandment of paramilitaries and of the war machine of the secret state that, itself, has been so implicated in paramilitarism, up to its neck in murder and collusion and the deaths of hundreds of people without trial or appeal and that has never been called to account for its actions or decommissioned. As far as People Before Profit is concerned, the condemnation of paramilitarism heard in the Chamber today rings hollow unless Members will also condemn the continuing existence of state paramilitaries and bring to justice those who propped up paramilitaries on both sides during the conflict while being in the payment of the state. If we are serious about not going back to the bad old days, we need to deal with both.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

That concludes that item of business. I ask Members to take their ease while we change the top Table.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Kennedy] in the Chair)