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Parties set out their stall on tackling thugs, but Sinn Fein snubs opportunity

By Chris McCullough

Sinn Fein was the only main party not to provide a response to a call by a leading academic for politicians to deal with the scourge of paramilitarism in our society once and for all.

As Northern Ireland heads into another election, Queen's University academic Professor Liam Kennedy called on the parties to make a serious commitment to finally deal with the issue.

There have been an estimated 10,000 so-called paramilitary-style 'punishment' attacks on civilians, including children, since 1969.

In the wake of meltdown at Stormont, the Belfast Telegraph asked all the main parties, as well as the independent MLA and Justice Minister Claire Sugden, what they believed should be done to tackle the vigilante behaviour. All except Sinn Fein and People Before Profit replied.

Ms Sugden said: "Unfortunately, there remains a perception amongst some that such attacks deliver a form of justice.

"This is not the case. Attacks such as these are abhorrent." Ms Sugden said an action plan - that arose out of the three-person Fresh Start panel examining paramilitary activity last year - marks the commitment to taking action to tackle all forms of paramilitary activity.

She said: "With regards to this particular issue, there are a number of relevant actions which can help to address these unacceptable acts, including: supporting vulnerable young people; utilising an approach to policing with the community; consideration of a restorative justice centre of excellence; and establishing a dedicated fund to support restorative justice schemes."

DUP MLA and chair of the Assembly's justice committee Paul Frew described paramilitary attacks as "a blight on society which cannot be tolerated".

"There have been proposals to tackle paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and we should all be working on ensuring that plan is enacted and with the necessary resources to bring those who carry out such attacks to justice," he said.

"We cannot ignore, either, the fact that political instability can offer a vacuum which these thugs will seek to exploit."

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said: "We have been consistent in standing up to and opposing the channelling of public money to organisations and individuals with clear links to paramilitaries," she said.

"When she was Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie faced down the UDA by cutting funding to the Conflict Transformation initiative. We have consistently called on the DUP and Sinn Fein to halt funding to organisations with links to active paramilitaries through the Social Investment Fund.

"Both, while quick to condemn paramilitary attacks in the media, have refused to do so, and through inaction have allowed millions of anti-paramilitary funding from Westminster to slip through their fingers.

"The SDLP achieved the accountability measures that have enabled the National Crime Agency to work against paramilitaries and we will continue to press for a full, detailed and competent anti-paramilitary strategy to free our communities from the shackles of fear and violence."

The Ulster Unionist Party said it had consistently opposed paramilitary groups.

"We also recognise that Northern Ireland needs stable political leadership to provide the environment in which we can create confidence," it said.

"It was the Ulster Unionist Party which stepped away from the talks process once it was confirmed that terrorist groups still existed with structures.

"We forced the issue to the top of the talks agenda, which ultimately led to the Fresh Start Agreement and the commitments that were contained within it.

"The Fresh Start Agreement included commitments to help bring about an end to 'paramilitary activity' and provided for the appointment of a panel to produce a report by the end of May 2016 with 'recommendations for a strategy to disband paramilitary groups'.

"There is no question that robust action is required on the part of the police and the criminal justice system to break up all criminal gangs, including paramilitaries."

Alliance MLA and former Justice Minister David Ford said: "Alliance has never viewed these as 'punishment attacks', but as senseless acts of violence that have no place in our society.

"Last May Alliance identified five key issues that needed addressed in order for us to agree to resume the post of Justice Minister. One of those issues related to tackling the legacy and impact of paramilitarism, a key element of which is how dissidents attempt to keep communities under their control through threats of violence.

"Unfortunately, the DUP and Sinn Fein did not share our concerns.

"During my time as Justice Minister I worked to end the influence of paramilitary organisations, no matter what part of the community they came from."

Steven Agnew of the Green Party said: "Paramilitary-style attacks have amounted to child abuse and summary execution in the past in Northern Ireland. It is an outrage that the violence continues today. This should be challenged by civic society and the criminal justice system in the strongest terms."

Meanwhile, Traditional Unionist Voice insisted the idea that paramilitary crimes can be addressed by anyone other than the PSNI "is a fallacy of the peace process".

"Facilitating those whose organisations used such tactics in the political process has sent entirely the wrong message to society," it added.

Couple shot in legs still in hospital

A Belfast couple shot in the legs at home in the Turf Lodge area of west Belfast remain in hospital.

Last Thursday, three masked men entered the home of Peter and Maria Dorian, both in their 50s, in Norglen Parade.

It’s understood Mr Dorian was shot in the legs while Mrs Dorian was shot in the ankle. It’s believed they were protecting their teenage son at the time, and the PSNI have since warned the young man of a threat against him.

Yesterday as the parents remained in hospital the family home was empty.

Neighbour Eileen McKernan (54) blamed the shooting on “cowboys taking the law into their own hands”.

“That poor husband and wife. They’re very nice people and would do anything for anybody. It was a shock,” she said.

Another neighbour living close to the family added that “most of the community is outraged”.

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