WEST Belfast MP Paul Maskey has hit out at dissident republican umbrella group Republican Network for Unity after a black taxi ad campaign aimed at tackling the scourge of scramblers and quads was scrapped
As well as billboards and bus shelter ads, the ad encouraging people to ring the police if they witness anyone illegally using the vehicles was also to be carried on black taxis.
The campaign was launched in the wake of the tragic death of local mother-of-three Valerie Armstrong who was hit by a scrambler in Colin Glen Forest Park last July.
But an online backlash from dissident republicans has prompted the black taxis to scrap the campaign. The RNU ‘victory’ has angered local community workers desperate not to see another scrambler death.
In a lengthy post on Facebook, RNU called on black taxi bosses to withdraw the ads from their vehicles and claimed that drivers were being forced to “advertise the PSNI” on their vehicles.
Last year the IRPWA came in for intense criticism after it picketed Féile an Phobail for working with the police.
“The black taxi mode of transport was created when state services refused to extend into besieged communities across West Belfast during the course of the conflict,” the RNU Facebook statement said. “This, coupled with the resistance of West Belfast residents, gave birth to the popular black taxis that defied British occupation and loyalist counter-insurgency to offer a service to working class communities in the West. Attempts by the state to totally subsume the black taxi service follows on from attempts to abolish it for a number of years. We must reverse this process.
“Republican Network for Unity call on the West Belfast Taxi Association to end the newly adopted practice of advertising the discredited PSNI post-haste, and call on the wider West Belfast community to demonstrate their opposition to the PSNI attempting to integrate into our communities by subsuming essential services.”
Paul Maskey MP said: “This is the exact same thing we witnessed during Féile when workers and community workers were threatened. This community will not be intimidated by those posing as Irish republicans. This is an initiative addressing the issue of scramblers in West Belfast, an area where a woman was knocked down and killed by one last year. It is a joint initiative between the PSNI and community representatives to try and tackle this issue, yet we see individuals thinking it’s good to threaten black taxi drivers who deliver a first class service to the people of West Belfast. The black taxis have been here for many years, they never surrendered to intimidation even when they were being murdered by loyalist death squads and they will not be intimidated by anyone from the local community. I would urge those involved in intimidation and threats to desist and stop immediately, get off the backs of this community especially those delivering a service which is second to none. Black taxis have been on this road for years working through terrible conditions when no-one else would. If you attack the black taxis you attack the entire community.”
Colin community worker Michael George said: “To say that I am frustrated about this is to put it mildly. What is RFU’s alternative? I for one would love to hear it. Will they now be telling victims of domestic violence and burglaries not to report them? What will they tell the families of people bereaved by scramblers or car crime? What alternative can they offer? Come out and tell the public.
“Since this campaign began we have noticed a drastic decrease in off-road vehicles being driven around, surely this can only be a good thing. If the police won’t be allowed to deal with it then what is this group’s alternative?”
RNU told us yesterday: “Republican Network for Unity will continue to protest against overt attempts to integrate a political and intelligence-led police force into working class communities that have borne the brunt of police harassment.
“We would like to extend solidarity to the wider West Belfast community who displayed their disgust and opposition to the decision by the West Belfast Taxi Association to advertise the discredited PSNI, their persistence paid off and ensured the decision was reversed.”