18 May 2006

Community on a knife edge


Twelve knives and an axe recovered on West Belfast’s streets as ‘Murph feud tensions continue to simmer

by Damian McCarney

Community workers are calling for an end to the knife culture in the Whiterock after a haul of 12 knives and one axe was recovered around the area over the last month – six since Friday.

It is believed that some of the knives were used by feuding gangs from the Whiterock-Westrock, Beechmount and St James’ areas.

Many of the knives, including a machete and a hatchet, were recovered by the Upper Springfield Safer Neighbourhood Project responding to reports from residents about youths, some as young as 11-years-old, roaming the streets with blades.

Secretary of the Whiterock and Westrock Residents’ Association, Pat Gregory, described the violent rivalry between the different estates as a “tradition”, particularly between Beechmount and Whiterock. It is believed that gangs of youths from St James’ are now also becoming involved in the fighting, and blades have become an integral part of each of the gangs’ weaponry.

“It is part of the knife culture. Young people do not fight with their fists any more,” said Pat.

The tension between youths in the area has been reflected in an upsurge in the number of attacks by gangs from outside the Whiterock area in recent weeks.

“Last week, a gang came into the area and assaulted two teenage boys and a girl, simply for being from the Whiterock. Two of them received black eyes, and a screwdriver was pulled on one of the boys. That happened during three separate incidents by the one crowd,” said Pat.

The SNP, along with the residents’ association, are leading the campaign to remove the knives from the streets, and to notify the parents of the teenagers responsible. However when they approach youths, they often discard the knives and run off.

“We are trying to notify parents of what is going on. Youths are taking these knives from their homes, and people are bound to notice they are missing. We are calling on them to contact the residents’ association if they can identify one that belongs to them.”

According to Damien Donnelly of the Safer Neighbourhood Project, self-defence is one of the reasons behind the trend.

“Last weekend we were called to deal with four knife-related incidents concerning young people.

“The worrying thing is that the majority of young people we have spoken to have said they were for self-defence.”

Pat says that underage drinking is endemic in the area, and the combination of drink and knives is potentially fatal.

“In recent weeks gangs of young ones are out on the streets drinking, especially in the good weather. The SNP are going around and approaching them to take the drink off them. We hope to continue this work because it is when they have drink in them that they show a little bravado with the knives, and what will that lead to?”

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Marie Cush has expressed her alarm at the increase in knife culture. “Over the last number of weeks the community have had to deal with an increased number of knife-related incidents.

“It is totally unacceptable for young people to brandish knives and I am calling on parents to be pro-active with their children in explaining the dangers and consequences of such activity and to ensure that their children are not carrying knives.”

Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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