A West Belfast man whose home was home was shot at and his car destroyed says he is the victim of an extortion attempt by Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH).
In an interview with the Andersonsotwn News, Stephen McKenna reveals that several attempts to extort money from him have taken place in recent years and in one terrifying incident, his wife was tasered by a member of the gang.
Stephen’s home in Rinnalea Gardens in lower Lenadoon was targeted by a mob of four masked men on Sunday night. Windows of his home were smashed and his car was set alight before the gang fired two shots and fled. The ex-IRA prisoner, whose family own a transport company in County Fermanagh, says Sunday’s incident was the climax of five days of intimidation and aggression by known ONH members.
Stephen says he’s speaking out because he’s had enough of repeated demands to hand over varying amounts of cash, ranging from £2,000 to £70,000 – all of which he has refused. The latest attack at his home – while he was inside with his wife, four children and nine month-old granddaughter – was the final straw, he says.
“Three-and-a-half years ago, an old jail colleague came to me and said ONH wanted £70,000 from my family because we had a chip shop at the time,” he explained. “I told him I didn’t have that kind of money and to go away. They came back and tasered my wife in the house and a month later my car was burnt out. We managed to brush it off and thankfully things quieted down.
“They came back last year demanding £10,000,” he continued. “In that instance, I went to Conflict Resolution Services Ireland down the Falls and told them what happened. That night a known ONH guy came to my door and said it was all over, I had nothing to be worried about.”
There was then a lull in the intimidation until last Wednesday when a five-day series of events began, culminating in the Sunday attack on Stephen’s home.
“On Wednesday night, a fella pulled up outside my door and was blasting his horn. I went out and it was another a guy I knew to be related to ONH. He said he needed £2,000 for a job he was doing for [named ONH leader]. He said if I gave it to him, he would give me £3,000 back in four weeks. I told him I simply didn’t have it.
“On Thursday, when I was going to vote, the same guy pulled up again and demanded the money and kept mentioning the ONH leader’s name. He was back again on Friday night and again he was told no.
“On Saturday, I was at a Communion in Monaghan but he called to my house three times, once when my wife was there, and he made comments about the house and how nice it was and how my wife probably wanted it to stay that way. He called later when my daughter was home alone and asked her for my number. She gave him the wrong one.
“When I heard about this, I raced up the road to Belfast. He had left a number for me so I rang it and asked where he was and went to meet him in Finaghy. He kept slabbering at me and tried to go for me. He became more and more menacing and in the end I emptied him and left. On Sunday, a crowd of four of them came back and were shouting at my neighbours who came out that they were ONH. They smashed windows, set the car alight and fired shots. My priority was to look after my family and make sure they were safe. On Monday, I was told by the cops that they had received a death threat for me.”
Stephen says that up until now he had tried to keep the police out of it but the use of guns has forced him to act. The PSNI have CCTV footage of Sunday’s attack at the home Stephen is refusing to leave.
“I have been in the house 16 years and I will not be going anywhere. I am not trying to be macho or a Braveheart, but this is my home,” he said.
“I know I can handle these bullies but I am speaking out now because obviously I am concerned for my family and how this all affects my wife and kids. This is the first time they used guns and that’s concerning but I have to take a stand because these people are just gangsters.
“I’m trying to appear normal and get on with it, but it’s not normal to sit up all night worried about someone coming or to be giving these types of interviews.
“My neighbours have been amazing and I want to thank them for that. I want it noted that in all this time, not one person from Sinn Féin has come to my door to visit my family and see how we are. I have got support from my family, friends, neighbours and ex-prisoners like Gerard [Hodgins, the well-known former hunger striker].
“What I want to know is, what will be done about these groups? They need to be challenged because they are just criminals who are giving republicans a bad name. I know I am not alone in being targeted but I am not scared to speak out about these bullies, that’s all they are.”
Gerard Hodgins served time in prison with Stephen and is backing him and his family.
“The activities of this gang known as ONH are nothing short of a disgrace,” Gerard said. “Stealing money from people just because they work is wrong and immoral. These groups have nothing to do with Irish republicanism.”
Harry Maguire from Community Restorative Justice Ireland said the McKenna family has their support.
“After meeting with the McKenna family, who are extremely distressed by the recent attack on their home, CRJI wish to offer the family our support. This statement should be viewed in this context of supporting the victims of crime,” he said.
“The McKenna family explained that Sunday’s attack was the latest attempt to extort Mr McKenna – extortion is criminal, the attack and previous attacks are criminal and those carrying out these attacks are criminals.
“It is crucial for the armed group ONH, whose name was used to take ownership of this attack, to publicly distance themselves from this and place the family at ease. The entire McKenna family have suffered enough.
“It is the view of CRJI that this matter should now be left with the criminal justice system as the issues raised belong in the criminal arena.”
The PSNI have appealed for anyone with information to come forward.