Ardoyne Suicides
Ardoyne Suicides

By Eamonn McCann (from the Blanket)

Virtually every piece of commentary on the recent suicides of young men in Ardoyne mentioned the area being left behind by the peace process. But few ventured to suggest what it was about the process which had brought this about.

Local Sinn Féin and SDLP leaders claimed that, compared with Protestant areas, Ardoyne had been starved of facilities. All four leisure centres in north Belfast are in areas Catholics wouldn't be safe travelling into, for example. The message was that the process is tilted against Catholics and that this has helped create conditions in which young men have despaired. This is curiously reminiscent of the explanations offered some time back for the attacks on Ardoyne children walking to school past Glenbryn.

Glenbryn had been left behind, it was said. Local residents couldn't visit the post-office in safety. Abandonment and alienation had generated resentment, directed against Catholic children making their way to Holy Cross.

A #9 million refurbishment programme was put in place for Glenbryn. Now it's reported that, ``special efforts will be made to tackle the lack of facilities for (Ardoyne) teenagers.''

Some might wonder how the same situation can have sparked despair on ``both sides.'' If the Catholics are left behind, surely the Protestants must be forging ahead? Or vice-versa. But, not only is it possible, it's inevitable that ``both sides'' will feel short-changed as the process is played out.

The Agreement corrals Catholics and Protestants into separate camps, assuring each of fair play as they compete for diminishing resources. This is a sure-fire recipe for generating grievance on both sides.

This does have relevance to the spate of suicides in Ardoyne. Urged by all in authority to find your sense of validation in the advance of your community vis-a-vis ``the other side,'' the realisation that, actually, you are regarded by society as worthless, and that there's no communal remedy, can devastate the spirit.

But it would be grotesque to advance this as a full explanation. Every suicide is a specific and personal individual act which cannot be rationalised by reference to general truths. The specific factors in Ardoyne include ``punishment'' attacks by the ``Irish National Liberation Army.'' Although this, too, cannot be offered as a full explanation, neither can it be coincidence that Anthony O'Neill and Barney Cairns, both 18, whose suicides prompted widespread comment, had been victims of INLA assaults.

A spokesman for INLA's political wing, the IRSP, explained the assaults: ``The INLA, against their will (were) acting under pressure from the community.''

According to his family, young O'Neill had been left trembling naked down a manhole for hours before being dragged out and subjected to a prolonged vicious beating by an INLA gang. The notion that the INLA had done this ``against their will...acting under pressure from the community,'' is an insult to the people of Ardoyne and to working class people generally. It's hard to imagine anything more calculated to reduce a youngster's sense of self-worth to nil.

The socialist approach is from the opposite direction. It begins from an observation of two simple facts---one, that the main cause of ``anti-social behaviour'' is poverty; and, two, that the overwhelming majority of young people want to play a positive role in society. Or, to put it another way, that tackling the problem is only possible in the context of fighting against poverty, and that young people have to feel that they have a valued role in this fight.

We might even---excuse the phrase--put it a third way: that it's in the fight against poverty and the sources of poverty that the exclusions and divisions enshrined in the Agreement can be overcome.

Neither the pro-Agreement commentariat nor the INLA gangs have anything to contribute to this project. Youngsters from Ardoyne, as from any working class area, need politics which invite them to take control of their own lives as part of a movement of the working class and the marginalised to take control of society.

This means resolutely opposing both the pro-police elements who want a crack-down on unruly areas, and guttersnipes with guns who think they've done a great day's work for Ireland if they've managed to maim another working-class child.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News