Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland youth worker on a mission to help traumatised victims

By Claire McNeilly

A Northern Ireland youth worker has made an impassioned plea for an end to the scourge of paramilitary shootings and beatings.

Paul Smyth has shone a light on the thuggish and twisted version of “justice” still regularly dispensed by terror organisations.

He went into prison to speak to a 31-year-old shooting victim. His hard-hitting blog on the disturbing conversation is published below.

Official PSNI statistics show there were 28 victims of paramilitary style shootings in 2016/17, double the number recorded in the previous year.

There was also an increase in the number of casualties of paramilitary style assaults, from 58 to 66.

“This is an enormous human rights abuse and it’s about time something was done about it,” Mr Smyth said.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of young people who have been attacked and to a lot of youth workers who are working with the young people who are being attacked.

“Most of these young people are already very broken before the paramilitaries ever get to them, and the shootings and beatings are just making life even more difficult for them.

“At one club in west Belfast at least three people who were shot took their own lives within months of the shootings.

“Normally the police issue statements saying the victim’s injuries aren’t life-threatening but they are usually life-changing.

“A lot of people don’t realise the very traumatic effects that these attacks have and that people are left dealing with the consequences for the rest of their lives.”

Paul said it was heartbreaking to hear the prisoner’s story.

“Everything he told me about his life was so depressing, but at the same time there’s still a spark in him,” he said.

“He’s not an angel; he’s in prison accused of a violent crime. But although he has lived his entire young adulthood in the peace process, he is very much a victim of the Troubles.”

Mr Smyth has been involved with The Peace People for many years and ran the youth-focused charity Public Achievement.

The blog, which was posted on his website, wiseabap.com, has already sparked widespread interest, from senior ranking officers in the PSNI to ordinary people all over the world.

Mr Smyth, a youth worker for 35 years, said he is working with a professor and a priest, among others, to develop a strategic approach to dealing with the issues surrounding paramilitary-style attacks.

“This is a legacy issue from the conflict; it really started in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and it’s been going on ever since,” he said.

“After the Good Friday Agreement it looked like the numbers were dropping but they’ve actually gone up again in the last couple of years.”

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