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NI artists denounce threats against playwright Mitchell

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Writers in Northern Ireland have spoken out in support of Gary Mitchell, after the playwright was forced into hiding because of attacks on his home in loyalist Rathcoole.

Thirty artists, including dramatists Damian Gorman, Tim Loane, Martin Lynch, Maria McManus and Christina Reid, signed an open letter drafted by Belfast novelist Glenn Patterson at a recent conference, declaring: “As citizens of this country we abhor the intimidation of any of our fellow citizens. As writers, who gathered in Belfast last weekend to debate the state of the literary arts, we condemn the recent attacks on Gary Mitchell and offer Gary and his family our wholehearted support.”

Mitchell’s plays, such as Marching On and Forces of Change, portray the power struggles between Protestant paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Despite his success and position as writer in residence at the Royal Court, he had continued to live within the community he wrote about.

Patterson told The Stage: “Nobody seems to understand, including Gary, why this has happened at this particular time. He’s been in the public eye for a number of years. It is surprising to hear of it happening at this stage and it is frightening. But I haven’t heard any writers here worrying about what they will do or whether they will be under increased threat themselves.

“We know we live in a society where the paramilitaries don’t tolerate other voices. Not much has changed in that aspect. Most writers here who write work that engages with the society and politics of the place have felt themselves to be potentially in a situation of vulnerability over the years. But Gary said he doesn’t want the paramilitaries having any control over what he writes and I think all of us here would agree. You have to go on asking the questions that the work demands. Gary has done that.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row last week, Mitchell said he believed the violence against him was perpetrated by people who were unlikely to have seen his plays.

“There is a very small minority in north Belfast who are very jealous and very angry at someone else being successful and they’re using every opportunity they come by to lash out at me and my family,” he said. “I doubt these people have ever seen anything I’ve written… [they think] if the Irish in Dublin are giving me awards I must have done something wrong, something against this community, so I think they’re using their own interpretation to lash out at me.”

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