T he destruction of a republican grave in the City Cemetery has been strongly condemned. The headstone at the resting place of Ballymurphy man Joe O’Connor, a member of the RIRA, was smashed in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It’s not the first time that the grave of the 26 year-old, who was shot dead in Ballymurphy in October 2000, has been targeted.
“The grave and headstone of Volunteer Joe O’Connor was desecrated in a most disgusting and degrading manner,” said Republican Network for Unity’s Ciarán Cunningham. “This is not the first time Joseph’s grave has been attacked and a memorial plaque to him was destroyed in August 2007.
“RNU have spoken with the family who are understandably distraught and bewildered after this latest attack on their loved one’s memory.”
Ciarán says the identity of those behind the attacks is known and he also suggests possible reasons for the damage.
“On all occasions, these appalling attacks were carried out by a criminal gang based in Ballymurphy which calls itself ‘the Ratpack’,” he said.
“This gang has plagued the Ballymurphy area for at least six years, creating a climate of fear, conducting multiple house break-ins and introducing hard drugs.
“Throughout their reign of terror, they have not been challenged by the PSNI, and it is our firm belief that they are being given free rein to commit multiple crimes against the community in return for providing information on republicans in the area.
“We note that last week Chief Constable Matt Baggott announced that he was planning a ‘crackdown’ on republican groups who carry out ‘punishment attacks’.
“Given his comments, the unbelievably horrific nature of Joe O’Connor’s desecration and the position of the Ratpack as PSNI child intelligence sources, one wonders if this criminal gang have been instructed by their police handlers to provoke republicans to take action prior to a trap being set for them?”
Mr Cunningham called on the community in Ballymurphy to “shun” those behind the attack.
“We note that some in the upper Springfield, including relatives of the Ratpack and some self-appointed community workers have spoken out quite publicly in support of this gang in the past,” he said.