Belfast Telegraph

New paramilitarism awareness campaign 'a bit tame', says MLA

An awareness campaign aimed at tackling paramilitarism in Northern Ireland is too tame and shies away from the violent crimes of the gunmen, an MLA has claimed.

Roy Beggs raised concerns that the End the Harm ad drive would not have the desired impact.

He was one of a number of Assembly members on the Justice Committee that questioned Department of Justice officials on the Executive's efforts to stamp out paramilitaries and organised crime gangs.

The new £530,000 advertising campaign was launched by Justice Minister Claire Sugden earlier this week.

A TV and cinema advert highlights the dangers of buying counterfeit goods by showing how money spent on fake items lines the pockets of organised criminals.

Ulster Unionist Mr Beggs said it did not address the violent acts committed by paramilitaries. He compared the ad to hard-hitting road safety adverts in Northern Ireland.

"I have to say I thought the video was a bit tame," he said.

"Certainly in terms of the issues that I come across it didn't strike me that it would get traction where we want it to get traction, that would be one of my concerns.

"I am just thinking about the road safety campaign - it was more hard-hitting and certainly did have an impact.

"The things that I have been aware of in recent times have been intimidation, shootings, shootings in households, through windows, I was talking to a fellow who was beaten with a baseball bat with nails through it.

"This is what paramilitarism is. And if that can be connected to the cheap goods that helps fund it all, I think that would be much better."

DoJ official Anthony Harbinson acknowledged Mr Beggs' point. However, he said the campaign was designed to highlight the areas of criminality that paramilitaries were less renowned for.

"I can understand exactly what you are saying but what we are trying to do and the purpose behind this - and remember this (campaign) is going to go on for a number of years - is actually raise awareness of the things that people don't associate with paramilitarism," he said.

"Punishment beatings - if that's the right term - everyone associates with paramilitarism.

"People getting shot in their houses, people in balaclavas, people in dark alleys with guns - everyone associates that with paramilitarism.

"What they don't associate with paramilitarism is going out and buying a fake DVD or a shirt.

"What we are trying to say to people is 'it's more than the obvious'. Now you may feel it's a bit subtle but actually what we were trying to do was say to people 'paramilitarism is more pervasive than you actually believe, it's more involved in crime and organised crime and by buying these counterfeit goods you are funding these paramilitaries'.

"The vast majority of people I don't believe would like to think they fund paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but by doing this they actually are."

Mr Harbinson said there would be more hard-hitting ads produced in future stages of the campaign.

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