By Paddy Meehan

A full inquest into the tragic death of Noah Donohoe is scheduled for January 2022. The 14-year-old went missing near Belfast city centre on 21st June 2020 on his way to meet friends in the north of the city, prompting a massive search operation. Six days later, his body was found in a storm drain. Noah’s death was met with genuine outpourings of grief from across the community.

Noah’s mother has been at the forefront of a significant campaign, Noah’s Army, to get answers as to how her son died. The circumstances of Noah’s disappearance and the PSNI response raise a number of important questions. Initially, police indicated they felt Noah had been a victim of an assault and that a head trauma may have led him to enter the drain. The coroner’s initial verdict, however, concluded there was no evidence of assault and suggested death by drowning.

Rumours quickly spread that Noah may have been the victim of a sectarian attack, and that loyalist paramilitaries may have been involved, leading to heightened tensions along interfaces in north Belfast. As yet, no firm evidence has emerged to suggest that this was the case. However, the rumours reflect a reality that the threat of sectarian violence remains a daily reality for both Protestant and Catholic people living in divided working-class areas. Unionist and nationalist politicians whip up tensions when it suits their ends, but also work together to implement austerity policies which fan poverty and alienation.

Noah’s family and the wider community deserve answers about how he died, and also about the police handling of the investigation. However, based on experience, we have no faith that the PSNI will subject their approach to a rigorous and full assessment. We need genuine community policing, under democratic control, with full and transparent oversight and direct accountability to local people.