Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

Streets of fear


As part of the series looking at the lives of ordinary people, the Andersonstown News has spoken to bus driver Catherine Breen and retired taxi driver Tom Tully about their jobs and their lives.

The cost of a living

Black taxi drivers suffered terribly throughout the conflict at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.

At least 15 drivers were shot during the course of the conflict in North and West Belfast, and eight drivers lost their lives. However, with the ceasefires came a new sense of safety within the communities according to Tom Tully, who just retired last week after thirty years of taxi-driving in West Belfast.

Tom was a founding member of the West Belfast Taxi Association in 1973, and said the camaraderie in the years during the conflict sustained the men through difficult times.

"In those days, there was danger everywhere for taxi drivers and we were tortured by the RUC and the British army, with road blocks etc. We used to get into all sorts of predicaments. Between shootings and bombs, taxi drivers were in the front line, you could say. But no matter how bad things were, we were out there, bringing people home, even when the buses weren't running.

"There was a real feeling of solidarity between all the drivers, we helped each other and supported each other. We used to meet for coffe every morning in Castle Street - that was one of the best parts of the job.

"I had a few close shaves myself, during the past thirty years. Drivers were being shot even in our own area, in Castle Street and around Twinbrook and Poleglass especially. It was never as bad as in North Belfast, but it was still pretty hairy.

"Since the ceasefires happened, our lives have become a lot easier. The RUC has eased off considerably, and there aren't the road blocks and so on.

"About ten years ago, I picked up two men who began acting suspiciously as soon as they got in the cab. They changed their minds about where they wanted to go and I just had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. I stopped the cab immediately in the middle of the road and told them to get out.

"I had friends who weren't so lucky though.

So-called joyriders remain a threat but it's so much better than it was before the ceasefires.

"It was a good job in many ways, I was my own boss and could pick the hours I wanted to work.

"I'll miss meeting up with the lads but I think thirty years is long enough to be a taxi driver!"

On the buses

Catherine Breen has been driving buses for three years. She said the increase in stoning of buses is a big worry.

"Today I'm on the late shift, which means I start at 5pm and finish up about 12.15am. It can be really tiring, as anyone who has ever driven for a long time knows. You're concentrating the whole time, because at the end of the day, you are responsible for your passengers' lives," she said. "We have routes all across the city, one day you'd be on the Falls Road, the next day you might be on the Shankill. I've been a bus driver for three years now and there are really good points about the job, but lately, people only hear about the disadvantages, the attacks and the threats.

We do get a lot of abuse from drunks, especially late at nights on the weekends. I have been quite lucky so far in that I've never been robbed or attacked, but it happens all the time to other people so that you never feel totally safe, and I feel particularly vulnerable as a woman driver.

"We have just had extra security measures brought in after the most recent spate of attacks and you do feel a bit more protected now.

"With buses being stoned and windows being smashed on a weekly, if not daily basis, you do get used to it. I know that I can handle myself in that sort of situation but it's the passengers I worry about. A lot of them are elderly or young kids and it's more frightening for them than it is for me.

"I have had countless numbers of passengers injured by flying glass. The kids who are doing this don't have any regard for who they might be hurting – it could be their gran or their younger brother on the bus. Stoning the buses has turned into a sport in this city, there's no reasoning behind it.

"I know male and female drivers who have been attacked and robbed for a few shillings – it's hardly worth it. But it makes no difference if you're a man or a woman. I'm watching bus stops as I approach them, to see if there are any potential trouble-makers because you almost know who's going to cause hassle before it happens."

August 16, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on August 15, 2002.