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Commemorating under siege in west Belfast
Friday October 12, 2007 15:51 by A . Chara
Republicans remember their dead in the face of attacks by PSNI controled criminals
This week marks the twentieth anniversery of a man murdered to protect a high ranking British agent within the Provisional IRA. It also sees the seventh anniversery of his grandson who himself was murdered only yards away.
Yet the ability to commemorate either of these republicans has been made impossible by a criminal gang operating within the Ballymurphy area.
How could this happen in 'republican' west Belfast?
Memorial plaque was partially restored in time for anniversery
On the morning of October 9th 1987 twice interned IRA vetren, and retired black taxi driver Francisco Notarantonio was murdered in his bed by a UFF hit squad who had ventured well into the heart of the staunchly republican Ballymurphy estate.
With uncharacteristic precision loyalists had been able to locate his address, even his bed room. A British army map was found at the scene of the shooting.
By early 2000 journalists were approaching Fra's family claiming to have evidence that his murderers had been encouraged to target the pensioner by the British army's Force Research Unit in a bid to deflect UFF attention away from their original target, another Belfast man of Italian desent who was in fact a British agent working inside the PIRAs internal security unit.
By 2003 this theory was proved to be correct with agent 'Steaknife' fleeing to Italy leaving PIRA supporters reluctantly accepting they had been duped.
Three years earlier however, in the midst of vehement and aggressive provisional denials of Steaknife's very existence Francisco Notarantonios grandson, IRA Volunteer Joseph O Connor was gunned down in the same street, outside his mothers door and in front of his seven year old sister.
He had been murdered by local Pro-GFA nationalists, people who had weeks previously gave assurances that no hostility existed between them and Josephs movement.
In October 2001, republicans erected a memorial plaque to both Joseph O Connor and his grandfather, it was placed on the wall of his mothers home. Small commemorations occured at the plaque for some years.
In 2006 however Ballymurphy got to know a street gang who called themselves the 'rat-pack'. They had came to prominence after burning the homes of scores of innocent people in apparant retaliation for a local man who had died in a street fight in Febuary of that year.
Included in the house burnings was Francisco's own home, his 89 year old widow who is suffering from Lukemia and cancer of the leg was made homeless, when announcing her intention to return a stolen digger was driven into the house causing it to be demolished by the housing executive.
Since that time both Joe's and Fra's grave have been desecrated on several occasions. Joe's mothers home has come under almost daily attack, late last year while trying to chase the rat pack from her home Joe's mother was physically assaulted, later the memorial plaque itself was destroyed by a paint bomb.
The gang responsible have gone on to launch a general campaign of misery and intimidation onto the streets of west Belfast, commiting every imaginable offence including murder, this campaign has seen the people of west Belfast openly using the Police for the first time.
Furthermore they have proven to be spectacularly successful in avoiding arrest and prosecution despite copious amounts of evidence placing them at the scenes of numerous serious offences.
This has led to a commonly held belief that the Rat-pack street gang are in fact working for the PSNI, a theory floated only last week by the local news paper the Andersonstown News (itself a pro-PSNI paper).
The vicious nature of rat pack attacks plus the PSNIs seemingly instinctive ability to come to their aid in difficult situations has made it all but impossible for Joe O Connors family or friends to attempt to repair the damage done to his grave or memorial plaque.
In the wake of the murder of local greengrocer Harry Holland however many of the rat packs leaders have gone to ground.
As such some close friends were this week able to partially restore the memorial plaque to both Joe and his grandfather in time for this important anniversery.
Earlier today the national flag was placed at Joe's memorial plaque and some prayers were said, in a street were the PSNI gang are well known to congregate, planing attacks, intimidation and drug dealing.
It is a very sad day and an example of disasterous pro GFA policing policing policy when republicans must remember their dead in such a low key fashion, under threat and under siege.
Francisco Notarantonio, murdered twenty years ago this week
The memorial plaque following an attack by PSNI directed criminals
IRA Vol. Joseph O Connors seventh anniversery