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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK

West Belfast's biggest issue?

The Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said the single biggest election issue in the West Belfast constituency is anti-social behaviour.

Mr Adams, MP for the area during the last parliament, said it was the only issue people wanted to talk about on the doorsteps.

He said: "It is the only thing that is going to cost Sinn Fein votes because people feel we are not doing enough."

Anti-social behaviour in West Belfast terms includes house break-ins and so-called joyriding where young people steal cars and take them on high speed chases through the housing estates.

Many of them are glue-sniffers and have little regard for their own or local people's safety.

There have been many deaths over the years as a result of their recklessness.

The situation is further complicated by the policing arrangements which exist in the constituency.

Many people living in republican areas either refuse to involve the Royal Ulster Constabulary when they need the police because they do not support them politically.

'Rough justice'

And often RUC officers are reluctant to enter the areas without back-up in case of paramilitary attack.

In the policing vacuum the paramilitaries often step in to mete out "rough justice".

" It is this issue more than any other which is exercising the minds of the voters in nationalist areas "
Editorial, Andersonstown News

This usually takes the form of "kneecapping" where the alleged anti-social offender has one or more kneecap shot off as punishment.

The same methods also exist in loyalist areas of West Belfast too.

Although the police can operate more safely there, the paramilitaries still are viewed by a significant number of people as the figures to turn to for retribution.

This support for the paramilitary methods is sometimes under-estimated in the wider community where the assaults are more likely to be abhorred.

Restorative justice

All the parties are officially opposed to punishment beatings or shootings yet the paramilitary organisations to which they are aligned usually carry them out.

Several restorative justice projects have been eset up in West Belfast to tackle the problem.

These try to rehabilitate young offenders and provide mediation between them and their victims.

It is a slow process however and there is still an impatience for quick action against the youths or "hoods" as they are known.

The Andersonstown News broached the issue in a recent editorial.

Editor Robin Livingstone said: "Our politicians, who are currently knocking on doors on the campaign trail, will be left in no doubt that it is this issue more than any other which is exercising the minds of the voters in nationalist areas."

West Belfast is a safe nationalist seat. In the last election Sinn Fein and the SDLP polled 94.6% of the votes cast.

The candidates for this election are: Gerry Adams SF, Chris McGimpsey UUP, Eric Smyth DUP, John Lowry Workers Party, Alex Attwood SDLP, Rainbow George VFY and David Kerr UTW.

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