The lack of effective, community-based police services in loyalist and republican areas has created a vacuum which is being filled by paramilitary activity, leading experts have warned.
A major study into relationships between the PSNI, communities and paramilitary groups claimed police “inertia” had created a space for paramilitarism to flourish.
The study has been compiled by Dr John Topping, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Ulster, and Jonny Byrne from its institute for research in social sciences.
It claims the policing experience promised by the PSNI in the post-Patten era failed to meet community expectations or address fears about ongoing crime and anti-social behaviour.
“This has resulted in a growing acceptance of paramilitary ‘policing’ where there is a clear policing vacuum, with paramilitaries as ‘entrepreneurs’ seeking to exploit the gaps,” Dr Topping said.
The authors conducted interviews with community groups, politicians and PSNI officers in loyalist and republican areas of Belfast.
Some 95 interviews were carried out between 2007 and 2009 — 60 from loyalist and republican communities and the other 35 with PSNI officers in those areas.
A loyalist community activist is quoted as saying: “I would say every area is the same. Every area has got a paramilitary influence... and the politicians, the bosses in the PSNI are burying their heads.
“I live in a loyalist working-class area and it (policing) hasn’t changed one bit and, if anything, it has got worse.
“So if anyone asks has the peace process done anything, we say no.
“This paramilitary influence has been brushed under the carpet by the politicians and the police don’t deal with it and it’s business as usual.”
One republican interviewee told the researchers: “There’s a palate out there for that (paramilitary justice) because people are getting so frustrated (at the lack of state policing).
“They’re saying: ‘I don’t care who hits them (criminals) as long as somebody’s hitting them, stopping it (crime).”
Dr Topping said the study indicated that changing the hearts and minds of communities regarding the paramilitary option had been underestimated by both the PSNI and politicians, in terms of the need for more effective frontline policing.
“In this regard, the evidence pointed to paramilitary organisations cashing in on the lack of confidence in policing, as delivered by the PSNI,” he added.
The PSNI was unable to comment when contacted last night.