THE circumstances surrounding the shooting to death of Edward Gibson in the Divis area on Friday remain unclear, although already charges have been levelled in relation to the chaotic scenes that led up to the fatal incident and those matters will ultimately and rightly be dealt with by the courts.
The killing has evoked grim memories of a grey past which we are slowly but surely leaving behind. The proud and historic Divis area suffered as much, if not more, than any other part of West Belfast during the conflict and it is therefore all the more unfortunate that the shadow of the gunman has once again fallen over the district.
Police say they don’t believe dissident republicans were involved in the shooting, but at the same time they’ve refused to rule out the possibility that it was a punishment-style attack. That’s led to widespread speculation about who carried out the attack and why, with the finger being pointed in particular at the Official IRA, an organisation which most people probably considered to be non-existent, or at the very least moribund. In fact, it continues to exist, as evidenced by the fact that it has released a statement to the Andersonstown News this week through the Official Republican Movement, denying that its members shot Edward Gibson.
The statement says that the group is not involved in any “military activity”, but the fact of its very existence is a cause for concern, given that other of the more traditional republican groups have undoubtedly left the stage. Meanwhile, the continued existence of the OIRA should – but almost certainly won’t – raise questions about present-day southern parties with roots that run deep into ‘Official’ republican history.
If it is indeed the case that Mr Gibson’s death was the result of a punishment attack, then those responsible are poor students of history. For it is very much the case that beatings and shootings, far from putting an end to the activities of alleged wrongdoers and criminals, serve only to enrage and embolden those they are supposed to deter, and the bitterness and alienation spreads out like ripples on a pond to include family and friends of the victims. Statistics in relation to recidivism on the part of surviving victims who’ve been shot and beaten are impossible to compile because of course the people targeted have not undergone a trial and therefore no official figures are available; but anecdotally, it can clearly be seen that notorious individuals who have been kneecapped or beaten with baseball bats very rarely forsake their alleged criminal careers and become responsible and contributing members of society.
Away from the practical considerations, the moral reality remains the imperative. No-one has the right to shoot or beat anyone, not the police, not the courts, and certainly not faceless individuals spuriously claiming to represent the community and acting on ‘evidence’ that is in most cases little more than street tittle-tattle.
Divis has more than its fair share of social problems, as regular reports in this newspaper confirm. High levels of poverty and deprivation lead to high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour at certain hotspots and that has badly affected the quality of life of the people living beneath the famous Twin Spires of St Peter’s. Hard work is being done on the ground by committed groups, community and statutory, and gradual progress is being made. The murder of Edward Gibson demands that such work must continue.