FEAR and tension in a West Belfast Street have reached “breaking point” because of rising levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, according to residents and local community workers. Delivery drivers refuse to bring hot food deliveries to the street, many residents are being prescribed anti-depressants, stolen goods are stashed in its maze of alleyways and one resident even lost a dog after it chewed on one of the gluebags turfed into her garden by thugs who are holding the street to ransom.
Those are just some of the grim stories emanating from McDonnell Street in the lower Falls. Having reached the end of their tether, fearful and exhausted residents have now approached the Andersonstown News to tell of the ongoing campaign of terror inflicted on the community by a band of well-known and notorious hoods.
So “petrified” are the residents, that not one wished to be identified for fear of being targeted by the gang which numbers around 15 local youths aged from 10 to 22.
“McDonnell Street is at breaking point,” said one woman. “It’s just terrible to live here, terrible for us and terrible for our kids who can’t even play in the street. They have stolen everything, even your garden furniture. They take it from your garden and there they are sitting on it in the alleyways drinking a carryout, and sure you can’t even go out to them, there would be no point. If your stuff isn’t nailed down, they’re taking it.”
Another woman said the thugs have no respect for anyone and don’t hesitate to victimise pensioners.
“They chuck everything in your garden from gluebags to used condoms to beer bottles,” she said. “My dog was in the garden and chewed on a gluebag. It hardened in his stomach and he died, but they don’t care, they don’t care what they do or who they do it to.
“They even torture the street’s pensioners. They’ve robbed their homes with them in it and if these hoods aren’t inside the house they’re crawling over the house stealing lead and whatever else they can get. They are merciless. They shout at you and throw things at you or your house, you just can’t get living. The abuse you take from this crowd is desperate, they are absolutely wild, totally wild. They are there every night. This isn’t something that’s confined to weekends, this is morning, noon and night of every day. They don’t care about anyone or respect anyone, they stand around in full view of everyone, taking drugs and getting up to no good, and nothing is done about it.”
One man said things have got so bad that he’s now living in “a street in crisis”.
“Of course it’s in crisis,” he said. “They come in and sit in your back garden like it’s normal, like it’s their garden, and sit and drink a carryout. At other times, what they do is throw a ball in your back. If you don’t come out, they are in your house robbing you. If you do come out, they say they’re getting the ball and give you abuse while they’re at it.
“We can’t get takeaway deliveries sent here, they all refuse to come because their cars will be stolen or the drivers attacked and robbed. A company that was installing broadband here recently had to pull out three times because of the trouble and grief the workers got.”
And it’s not only delivery drivers who avoid the street, said another women – binmen won’t go near it either.
“We have to leave our bins in Lady Street because the binmen don’t come into the street,” she said. “You leave your bin there, it gets stolen and an hour later you have one of these young fellas at the door asking you if you want to buy it back.
“Someone needs to have a word in their ear, anyone that can help. I think the political parties need to do more, or anyone who can help should help us. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to come into the street because when I’m out and I know I have to go home, I feel depressed. McDonnell Street is at crisis point and we have to live here every day.”
So bad have things got that at one point 80 per cent of the street’s Housing Executive residents had applied for a house swap, said another woman.
“Nobody is getting a swap, though, because nobody wants to move into McDonnell Street,” she added. “The only resolution I can see is to knock the street down. We have the same level of anti-community activity as the Ross Street flats but nothing is done about it. Once you say McDonnell Street, nobody listens, it’s just been left to get worse and worse and the situation is deteriorating, no doubt about that. People are petrified of this gang, we want something done but we are too afraid to speak out or be identified because then you become a bigger target. It’s nearly impossible to live here, it’s as bad as it gets.”
Karol McKee of the Falls Residents’ Association said many of the problems, but not all, spring from the alleyways in and around the street
“The alleyways around McDonnell Street are a massive problem,” he said. “Some of the alleys are gated, but not all of them. We aren’t saying we want it like a prison here, but it’s a massive problem and radical change is needed.
“This group causing the trouble are in the minority, there are so many great kids around here. But this small band are intent on destroying the place. They need to understand that this is their area, they need to understand that residents here deserve to live in peace and to feel safe. At the minute, McDonnell Street is as bad as it gets and closing the alleys won’t stop all the problems here. A collective response from the statutory agencies is needed. Everybody must step up to the mark, it’s not just for one or two, this problem needs action from all quarters.”
Local Sinn Féin Councillor Jim McVeigh said plans are being drawn up for decisive intervention in the area.
“I understand how difficult it must be to live in and around the alleyways that run between Albert Street and McDonnell Street as it is a bolthole for criminals, but the situation isn’t hopeless,” he said. “We are in the process of discussing a significant intervention in that part of the Falls with a number of departments. We hope to secure agreement for significant investment in the area and hope to have the main problem alleyway closed to make it safer for residents. We are trying to get the police to commit to an intensive police operation in the area. It’s our hope that by the autumn we will be in a position to launch a significant intervention to improve the quality of life in the entire area.”