Dubious eulogy to Jock Davison worthy of proper debate
What does the phrase 'community group' mean? A collection of kind, selfless people working hard to help the poor, the sick, the scared and the needy?
Or a group taking public money to serve the interests of sinister people who control their neighbourhoods?
My friend Professor Liam Kennedy, a social historian who is interested in the present as well as the past, addressed that issue head-on last week after 63 'community groups' - who included Feile an Phobail, the Falls Community Centre, the Market Women's Group and Relatives for Justice - endorsed an advertisement in the Irish News paying a fulsome tribute to Gerard 'Jock' Davison, who in the IRA was involved in many murders and so-called "punishment" attacks.
This murdered "courageous community activist" in the Markets, these groups explained, was "highly esteemed".
Liam is a distinguished scholar and teacher who could have spent his life in a Queen's ivory tower ignoring the underside of Belfast. Instead, his championing of people at the bottom of the heap has led him into many dangerous places addressing difficult questions to intimidating people.
It was Liam who - in reports like They Shoot Children, Don't They? - exposed the ghastly details of how loyalist and republican paramilitary groups mutilated children with guns, iron bars and baseball bats.
Liam has been very supportive of the McCartney sisters in their struggle to find out the truth about the murder of their brother Robert. He is well-versed in the detail of what happened in and outside Magennis' Bar on January 30, 2005 when McCartney was brutally beaten and fatally stabbed, and organised rioting kept the police away until the scene of the crime had been forensically cleansed.
Because of the sisters' campaign, Sinn Fein and the IRA were forced to admit a measure of involvement and members were suspended and expelled.
Davison was charged and acquitted of McCartney's murder. Although there is disagreement about his responsibility for the violence, there is little doubt that after McCartney's murder, Davison had a leading role in organising the clean-up and imposing omerta on all the witnesses.
After Davison's funeral, which was attended by senior republican figures like Gerry Kelly and Bobby Storey and his paramilitary beret and gloves lay on his coffin, Catherine and Paula McCartney, while condemning Davison's murder, went public with their disgust at the "despicable ad": it was, they said, "nauseating that a group which campaigns on behalf of those who have suffered in the conflict lauds a man who left dozens of people here bereaved and injured".
They called for funding bodies to "reconsider giving public money to organisations which elevate a killer."
In a letter to the Belfast media backing up the McCartney sisters, Liam wrote of what "silenced voices in the Markets and the Short Strand" have said privately about the Davison "they feared". He wondered why community groups, many of which are funded by British and European taxpayers, would produce this hagiography and asked if it was a misuse of public funds.
The list, he wrote, read "like a roll-call of nationalist organisations, suggesting some kind of communal, sectarian reflex behind the initiative", brought the community sector into disrepute and raised questions about how former loyalist and republican paramilitaries had been recruited into paid jobs in community organisations. Were the boards of management and the community workers themselves consulted on this advertisement?
Talkback wanted a debate but though they contacted several groups no one was prepared to discuss the subject on air with Liam. As he said to me in an email, "that's what openness, transparency, equality, justice - all the buzz words of some of these groups - really means".
Had the debate happened, he said, he would have mentioned the absence of any community groups from non-republican areas close to the Markets, have talked of "the dark associates of Jock Davison, the partly political, partly criminal gathering that controls the Markets" and of the dark side of community groups. He would have asked what the funders felt about having unwittingly financed a eulogy to a former IRA leaders.
What do they think? Or are they also hiding behind a wall of silence?