Belfast Telegraph

Ciaran Barnes: Gunmen stick up two fingers to the law with broad daylight murder bids

Police at the scene of the New Lodge shooting
Police at the scene of the New Lodge shooting
Paramilitary graffiti in Laurelbank

By Ciaran Barnes

A broad daylight murder bid on a busy road, a house shot up late at night, and paramilitary graffiti threatening drug dealers - welcome to Belfast.

All of this occurred in a 30-hour period between Monday and Tuesday as the last of the foreign visitors to the hugely successful Open Championship flew out of the city's airports.

The violence and threats are a sobering reminder that for every step forward made in Northern Ireland, there are bogeymen in balaclavas trying to push us another two back.

The victim of Monday's gun attack in west Belfast, Decky Collins, is known to both police and paramilitaries.

He has clashed with the latter on several occasions in the past year, rows that were the catalyst for the failed attempt on his life.

At this early stage it appears the gunman was connected to the INLA - the republican group supposedly on ceasefire which murdered drug dealer Jim Donegan before Christmas, and fired commemorative shots at the funeral of convicted triple killer Marty McElkerney in May.

But don't expect the INLA's political reps to admit that; they are too heavily involved in publicly funded peace-building schemes that have brought its ex-prisoner group Teach Na Failte the guts of £700,000 in recent times.

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The most recent handout was £400,000 from the European Union's Peace IV Open Doors programme in February.

No attempts have been made to rescind the cash despite the PSNI publicly accusing the INLA of murdering Donegan, which it denies.

Republican sources last night linked the targeting of Decky Collins to a particularly nasty incident involving a west Belfast INLA leader, who in this case was the injured party.

They say this is the reason why the gang, which is the most heavily armed in Belfast, tried to kill him on Monday despite his pleas of innocence.

Collins, who is of an imposing build and known as someone to face down threats, was also in the sights of rival dissident republican groups, opening up the possibility that others may have been responsible.

But given the location at the heart of the INLA's lower Falls heartland, and his recent dispute with one of the gang's leaders, detectives are working off the belief that it carried out the shooting.

The murder bid, and Tuesday night's gun attack at a house in the New Lodge area of north Belfast, gives the impression that parts of the city are slipping into the grip of lawlessness. PSNI chiefs will argue against that, but what they cannot dispute is that within the space of 30 hours two different armed gangs were roaming the streets with an intention to kill.

Incidents like these are the last thing new Chief Constable Simon Byrne needs less than a month into the job.

Two weeks ago the east Belfast UVF left police chiefs and city fathers with red faces when it ran rings around officers and Belfast City Council at the illegal Avoniel bonfire site.

Now masked republicans are sticking two fingers up at the law by carrying out broad daylight murder bids.

It has been a baptism of fire for Mr Byrne, a decorated cop with 36 years of experience in England, who could be forgiven for questioning why he ever accepted a job in this mad house.

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