Dissidents blamed for rise in Northern Ireland paramilitary shootings
The number of victims of paramilitary shootings has doubled over the last year, new police figures show.
The annual crime statistics published by the PSNI yesterday showed a huge increase in security-related deaths and casualties from paramilitary attacks.
In total there were 61 shooting incidents in 2016/17 compared to 36 the previous year. These resulted in 28 casualties - twice as many as the previous year.
Republican paramilitaries were blamed for 25 of these, with loyalists deemed responsible for the remaining three.
Five security-related deaths occurred in 2016/17 - the highest number since 2008/9.
The number of casualties from paramilitary beatings in 2016/17 also rose - to 66, compared to 58 the previous year.
In contrast to shooting incidents, loyalists were blamed for the majority of the assaults, with 56 attributed to them and 10 to republicans.
Bombing incidents decreased slightly, with 23 reported, following 29 the previous year.
In all 137 people were arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, 12 fewer than the 2015/16 figure of 149.
Those charged following these arrests totalled 19 in 2016/17, one more than in 2015/16.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: "I acknowledge the increase in the number of victims as a result of paramilitary style attacks and would reassure local communities that we are continuing to focus on these crimes.
"The PSNI is working hard to bring those responsible for these types of crimes before the courts, however we also need the support from the public in providing us with the information we need to bring the perpetrators to justice."
Liam Kennedy, a human rights activist and history professor at Queen's University, founded the Children of the Troubles group to protest against punishment attacks on children.
"The huge rise in paramilitary shootings is overwhelmingly due to dissident republicans," he said. "Some of these victims are children, and it beggars belief that these armed bully boys should think that pumping bullets into helpless individuals is a way to solve social problems.
"This is green-on-green human rights abuses and, in the case of children, child abuse of an extreme kind."
Professor Kennedy said he had heard the shootings were in fact a way of 'blooding' new recruits for dissident republicanism.
"This is one of the huge legacy issues from the Troubles people fail to realise," he added.
"The IRA and loyalist paramilitaries pioneered the shooting and beating of those in their own communities who crossed them in any way.
"The dissidents continue that same perverted republican tradition."
With most attacks taking place in Belfast, Professor Kennedy called on the city council to appoint two human rights champions to raise awareness of the traumatic consequences within republican and loyalist communities.
He added: "If we can pay for traffic wardens, surely it makes sense to invest in trying to end this far more serious blight on working-class communities in this great city."
Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma hit out at what she called "child abuse by armed men" on young people in the lower Falls area.
"Northern Ireland's past cannot be used as an excuse to normalise such assaults," she said.
"The reality of life for these young people is often that of fear, poverty, intimidation, substance abuse or addiction, mental ill health and a lack of confidence in their police and other statutory services."
Ms Yiasouma urged public authorities to develop a long-term action plan with local communities, supported and sustained by the Government.