Get off community’s back, says Sinn Fein as armed anti-drugs gang issues threat
A Sinn Fein MLA has called on a republican terror gang to disband after armed men took to the streets of north Belfast to pose in front of sinister paramilitary graffiti.
Gerry Kelly told members of the vigilante group Action Against Drugs (AAD) to "get off the back of the community" after images emerged of two masked men standing in front of slogans on a wall in the New Lodge.
"There is absolutely no place for this group who have already been responsible for a number of deaths and beatings," he said.
One of the men is pictured with a gun, while a second man is seen holding a cudgel.
The graffiti, which has been daubed using thick black paint, warns "hoods", "drug dealers" and "house breakers" they will be "dealt with" by the gang.
It also urges residents in the area to join the group in order to "reclaim your community".
It follows a series of disturbances over the construction of an illegal bonfire in the New Lodge which police and contractors failed to remove after coming under attack last week.
Several stabbings following the PSNI climbdown prompted community workers to warn that New Lodge "is not a ghetto".
The criminal gang that issued the threats on the wall is believed to have been behind a recent paramilitary attack in which a man sustained a broken leg after being assaulted by masked thugs armed with baseball bats.
Mr Kelly has accused the group of exploiting tensions to gain power and influence.
"It's clear that AAD are attempting to use recent disturbances in the area to gain relevance, a move which has already been rejected by the vast majority of residents," he said.
"This group, contrary to its graffiti claiming to reclaim the community, has gained wealth by taxing drug dealers.
"We don't need more gunmen on our streets, we need the gunmen to get off the community's back."
The New Lodge has experienced a recent spate of crime including a number of burglaries. In one incident, an intruder was disturbed by neighbours as he broke into a 90-year-old woman's house at Carlisle Square.
As the culprit prowled around the house and raided the pensioner's handbag, a number of cars were burned in the street outside.
Last week hundreds of people attended a solidarity vigil in Victoria Parade which had been organised by Sinn Fein and attended by MLA Caral Ni Chuilin.
The former Stormont minister branded the recent chaos as "disgraceful".
Mr Kelly is now calling for a multi-agency approach to tackle ongoing anti-social behaviour and criminality. The Policing Board member said a public meeting will take place today to address concerns. "It is the community itself who are reclaiming their area," he added.
The PSNI was unavailable for comment last night.