Rallying call for community to stand up to criminality

March 2, 2015

The annual commemoration for IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley, held at Creggan on Sunday, became a huge rally of support for the victim of the recent booby-trap pipe bomb attack in Crossmaglen.

Francis (Junior) McCabe (31) sustained serious injuries to his face and chest when a device concealed behind a poster exploded as he was attempting to remove it from a lamppost early on Wednesday morning.  He underwent more than five hours of emergency surgery while doctors battled to save his sight and concerns remain that he may lose an eye.

The offending poster bore accusations against Mr McCabe’s neighbour, prominent republican Miceal Caraher who, along with a number of others in the area, had recently been threatened.

The incident marks an alarming advance in what has been described as a concerted campaign of intimidation allegedly being carried out by gangs involved in smuggling and fuel laundering in south Armagh.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy blamed “an organized criminal gang” and branded the murder attempt as “an attack on the peace process”.

And in an outstanding show of support to Mr McCabe, republicans from across the north thronged the narrow road at the memorial to the ‘Two Brendans’ on Sunday afternoon to hear Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, urge the south Armagh community to stand up to criminal gangs “masquerading as republicans”.

Mr Adams said those who planted the bomb did not care who may have been killed, but that their sole intention was “to intimidate and terrorise and coerce those in south Armagh who have been taking a stand against the criminal gangs”.

“The vast majority of people in south Armagh support Sinn Féin. An even greater number support the peace process. There is no support for criminality or for those who besmirch the republican cause,” he said.

“In recent years the criminal gangs have grown bolder and more dangerous and better organized,” he added, insisting that there are “no republicans involved in criminal actions” in the area or anywhere else.

Mr Adams revealed that he and senior party members have met with police officers on both sides of the border “to discuss the actions of criminal gangs” he said people “deserve and demand a proper policing service” and the force “must demonstrate that it can police fairly and effectively, and that they do support citizens who oppose criminality”.

To rapturous applause, Francis McCabe senior addressed the crowd and extended his grateful appreciation of the huge support received by his son and the whole family.

“Describing Francis Junior as a man “who would help anybody” he spoke of his family’s distress in recent days and said it is now time for the “whole community to stand together” in the face of a “relentless campaign of intimidation” by people who, he said, are only interested in self-gain.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack, politicians from both sides of the political divide, including the First and Deputy First Ministers, voiced their condemnation.

MP Conor Murphy said the McCabe family had been threatened in recent months and police had informed them of a threat “from this group”.

“In recent months death threats have also been made against a number of Sinn Féin activists, including myself.   These thugs are opposed to the peace process and opposed to policing because of their involvement in organised crime.  The threats have now escalated to what is clearly an attempt to murder people in the community opposed to their criminal activities.  It’s well past time for the PSNI to act before someone is killed,” he said.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley condemned the action, saying whoever is responsible has no support in the area.  He appealed to anyone with information to contact police and wished Mr McCabe a full and speedy recovery.

Voicing his abhorrence, SDLP Westminster candidate, Justin McNulty, urged the community to be vigilant: “The people of Crossmaglen do not want to live in the shadow of men of violence.  There is no place for Lynch Law in south Armagh or anywhere else for that matter.  It was wrong in the past and is wrong now,” he said.

Following the incident, police warned of a risk to the public and advised residents not to touch any suspicious objects, while they carried out a follow up investigation.  The scene of the blast, close to the Blayney Road and Corliss Road junction, was sealed off for several hours while detectives carried out an examination of the area.  Remnants of a pipe bomb device were recovered and taken away for forensic testing.

Police have asked anyone who may have noticed activity on the Blayney Road between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, or who may have witnessed a person or persons erecting the poster, to contact them.