The attempt to kill Frank McCabe Jnr outside Crossmaglen on Wednesday represents a new, violent escalation in the activities of crime gangs in the South Armagh and North Louth region. Some of those involved are also central to an unrepresentative militarist faction opposed to the Peace Process and Sinn Féin’s political strategy. This latest escalation follows death threats against Frank Mc Cabe (senior) and Conor Murphy MP in recent weeks.
Other victims of these gangs’ activities include shooting Michael Bellew in Cullyhanna a year ago, and killing Garda Adrian Donohoe in Lordship just over two years ago.
Despite PSNI and An Garda investigations no one has ever been prosecuted for these crimes. The policing response to this latest incident will be very closely scrutinised both within South Armagh and wider afield.
That reality carries huge implications for policing and community relations in South Armagh. This area is a republican heartland and bedrock of support for Sinn Féin’s peace strategy.
The Party’s electoral strength in the area, and widespread respect for the local republican leadership was a central element in Sinn Féin’s decision to support policing in 2007. Since then Party activists and representatives have worked tirelessly to build important relationships with the PSNI and also An Garda to make policing accountable, and to establish partnerships between both and the local community.
During this period, there has been a sinister and systematic upswing in criminality across the area. Diesel laundering, cigarette smuggling, cattle rustling, vehicle theft, financial extortion of local businesses, and more, have all become a blight on the local community. The gangs involved operate across the border, they co-operate with each other, and are inter-generational.
Most importantly, the police know their identities. They are career criminals and yet both the PSNI and An Garda have failed to act against them, despite the active support of local people.
There is a widespread belief that the key figures among these gangs are acting with impunity.
An obvious corollary is that another agenda is in play.
It is no coincidence that a new propaganda offensive driven by some of the island’s most notorious “crime” and “security” journalists has begun to demonise South Armagh, in particular, by disgracefully attributing the upsurge in criminality to republicans.
The reality is that as the gangs operating have extended and expanded their range of criminal activities, the most prominent republican families associated with the Sinn Féin leadership from Ballybinaby, through Dromintee, to Cullyhanna, Crossmaglen, and Camlough have all been physically attacked, threatened and targeted.
A concerted effort is underway to try and deflect republican activists in South Armagh and North Louth from promoting Sinn Féin’s political strategy. However, whatever agendas and, or, agencies are at work, they will fail. The local republican leadership and support base is just as determined to succeed in this phase of political struggle as well.
It is for that reason these violent, destabilising, criminal actions are escalating. Those responsible are a cancer within the local community, and a threat to the political and Peace Processes. But the progress within our society in terms of democratic change and support for policing cannot be taken for granted.
The PSNI and An Garda have a responsibility to prove they are up to the task and root these criminal elements out once and for all.
The proud people of South Armagh and North Louth must stand united to demand these criminals and militarists get off their backs.
The surrounding border community should also mobilise in solidarity with their South Armagh neighbours against this criminal scourge.
On Sunday 1st March a commemoration will remember Óglaigh Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley in Cullyhanna. Republicans from across Ireland should attend, and stand in solidarity and support with the Mc Cabe family, and all the republican families under threat from these criminals.
A resounding message needs sent to them to get off the backs of our people, and to get off the back of the Peace Process.