Loyalists blamed for boy's shooting
Loyalist paramilitaries have been blamed for shooting a 15-year-old schoolboy in Northern Ireland.
Matthew Campbell had to undergo emergency surgery at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital after being hit in both legs during the early morning attack.
A masked gang, one of whom was wielding a baseball bat, forced their way into a house in the staunchly loyalist Harpurs Hill area of Coleraine, Co Londonderry, and shot the boy - one of the paramilitaries' youngest victims.
The attack, branded morally reprehensible by senior police, has raised questions about the legitimacy of loyalist ceasefires.
SDLP Assembly member John Dallat said: "I would ask the chief constable, in light of this attack to revise his position in respect of loyalist paramilitaries who are clearly flouting the terms of their ceasefire.
"Gangs of this nature must not be allowed to abuse members of this community and deliver their perverse concept of 'justice'."
Since last June, 69 people have been arrested for so-called punishment or paramilitary-type attacks - 18 of whom have been charged and six convicted to date.
DUP MP for East Londonderry Gregory Campbell said: "No-one has the right to take the law into their own hands."
"Those who carry-out so-called punishment attacks must understand that they are not the police. If there are allegations of anti-social behaviour, then they should be report to the proper authorities."
It is understood the schoolboy was visiting the house at Glebe Avenue where he was targeted by three men just before 5am today and was not from the Harpurs Hill area.
He was rushed to the nearby Causeway Hospital but was later transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he spent several hours in surgery.
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Health Trust described his condition as stable.
Mayor of Coleraine David Harding said the community had been left shocked by the brutal nature of the attack - the second in the area in recent weeks.
He said: "There is absolutely no place for guns and violence in Coleraine.The people of this town want nothing to do with these reminders of our past and simply want to live their lives in peace with their neighbours and bring up their families free from violence and the fear of violence."
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, described the attack as madness, but said it was too early to identify any suspects.
He said: "Anybody who thinks shooting a 15-year-old progresses any legitimate aim, it is just absolute madness, it really is, the shooting of children.
Mr Kerr said the issue of ongoing vigilante-style paramilitary shootings was of significant concern to the PSNI and the Policing Board.
"There is no place in any modern, any way civil society for the shooting of children. It is not just a crime, it is morally reprehensible and we will continue to chase those people and continue to put people before the courts."
The schoolboy attack comes only weeks after 24-year-old Jemma McGrath was left fighting for her life after being gunned down by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in east Belfast. They UVF have also been blamed for orchestrating street violence during which hundreds of police officers were attacked.
PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott was criticised after he said the UVF ceasefire had not been broken despite the upsurge in violence and criminality.
The Police Federation, which represents thousands of rank and file officers has insisted the ceasefire has been broken. Its chairman Terry Spence said they had been linked to a series of attempted murders and mafia-style activities.
"They're holding local communities to ransom. On the basis of that, we as a federation have called for the respecification of the UVF (stating that its ceasefire is over)," he said.
But senior police officers said deciding the legitimacy of the UVF's ceasefire was a matter for politicians.
In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office said that as an organisation the UVF was not considered to have broken its ceasefire.
A spokeswoman said: "The Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) has been briefed by PSNI that while individual members of loyalist paramilitary organisations have been involved in recent acts of violence or criminality, their assessment remains that, as an organisation, there is no evidence of any change in status of the UVF ceasefire.
"The Secretary of State keeps these matters under constant review and remains in regular contact with the chief constable."
Meanwhile, East Belfast Alliance Party MP Naomi Long has called for an independent body established by the British and Irish Governments to review levels of paramilitary violence during the peace process to be revived because of the threat.
It comes after a weekend of violence in which a police patrol was pipe bombed in Co Tyrone and Ms Long's east Belfast offices were petrol bombed.
Her centrist party has been targeted on a number of occasions following loyalist outrage at a Belfast City Council decision last year to limit the flying of the Union flag at City Hall. Alliance has condemned the litany of threats as fascist.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle told the Stormont Assembly some politicians had not gone far enough in opposing extremism.
"Whilst PSNI officers place their lives on the line in service to this community in response to these attacks the language and actions of some elected representatives in our community have in my opinion fallen short of what is required from them with regards to support for the PSNI and the rule of law and democracy," he said.