Dissident republicans slammed for attacking public safety campaign

A photo of a west Belfast Black Taxi and the advert which the dissident group RNU opposed.

A photo of a west Belfast Black Taxi and the advert which the dissident group RNU opposed.

The husband of a woman killed by a scrambler motorbike has hit out at republicans who have pressed to have PSNI posters about the issue removed from west Belfast taxis.

Mother-of-three Valerie Armstrong, from Poleglass in the south-west of the city, died in July 2016 after being hit by the off-road bike in the Colin Glen Forest Park.

Valerie Armstrong, who died after she was struck by a scrambler motorbike near Mila's Lake at Colin Glen Forest Park in West Belfast. 
Picture By: Pacemaker

Valerie Armstrong, who died after she was struck by a scrambler motorbike near Mila's Lake at Colin Glen Forest Park in West Belfast. Picture By: Pacemaker

On February 13, Belfast City Council announced a new campaign to clamp down on off-road vehicles in public areas, consisting of adverts on taxis, billboards and bus shelters.

The posters urged the public to report incidents to Crimestoppers or the police.

However dissident umbrella group the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) then began posting photos of the Black taxis on Facebook, noting “with concern the attempts by the West Belfast Taxi Association to force its drivers to advertise the PSNI on their black taxi vehicles”.

RNU claimed black taxis had operated in “defiance” of the state during the Troubles, and called on the West Belfast Taxi Association to stop carrying the posters.

However on Thursday Mrs Armstrong’s husband Seamus responded with his own challenge on RNU’s Facebook site.

“Can someone tell me where exactly would be an appropriate place to advertise this message, because I for one support the taxi drivers and the taxi association in taking the lead in getting this message across to the wider west Belfast community,” he said.

“My wife in all her years working in the city centre used black taxis daily and a lot of the drivers would remember her. So I for one applaud their initiative in stepping forward not backward in the fight against illegal off-road vehicle use.”

It is understood that the West Belfast Taxi Association later removed the posters from their vehicles.

One source told the News Letter that a driver had his windscreen smashed outside his home and the association was concerned for the safety of drivers’ families.

West Belfast Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey meanwhile said: “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’s 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 News Letter asked the PSNI to comment on the RNU campaign and the removal of the posters from the taxis.

Chief Inspector Norman Haslett replied that following the tragic death of Mrs Armstrong last summer, police have been working in close partnership with the local community, the West Belfast Police and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) and Belfast City Council to raise awareness of the dangers of the reckless use of scramblers.

“Police have received more than 100 reports of scramblers and quads on roads and public places in West Belfast since July last year,” he said.

“Using police helicopters and our own quad bikes, we have seized 22 of these vehicles, made three arrests and forwarded six reports for prosecution.”

The campaign dramatically reduced incidents of harm, he said, and the PSNI will continue to “stand together with the local community”.