Belfast Telegraph

So-called punishment shootings and beatings: This isn't justice, it's criminality

Editor's Viewpoint

The statistics on the number of people in the province who have been the victims of so-called punishment shootings or beatings in the past two decades are shocking enough, but the details of the brutality involved in some of them are even more horrifying.

Imagine if it was your son or brother or father who was dragged from his home and shot in the legs or beaten mercilessly by thugs armed with cudgels, iron bars or even hatchets. The number of these attacks that have taken place since the start of the Troubles have almost inured us to the level of violence involved. But we should never accept them as legitimate in any sense.

The report by Queen's University professor, Liam Kennedy, shows that these attacks are even yet, in these days of supposed peace, continuing on a very frequent basis and in both loyalist and republican strongholds.

We have long known the reasons. During the Troubles when lawlessness reigned in many areas, the paramilitaries set themselves up as the local police and used these brutal methods against people deemed guilty of anti-social behaviour. They sought legitimacy for their actions because of the inability in many instances of the police to investigate low level crime due to the sheer scale of other violence that was occurring.

There was another message as well. The willingness of the paramilitaries to shoot or beat people on the flimsiest of evidence was also a warning to their communities to toe the line - or else.

That same mindset continues today and it seems that no one is immune from this kind of backstreet justice. More than 500 children, aged from 9-17 years, have been shot or beaten by paramilitary gangs in the past two decades. Even pensioners have been shot or beaten.

It cannot be stressed too often that loyalist and republican gangs have no right to administer what they would like to term street justice. They are simply criminals engaged in criminal and immoral behaviour. No matter what crime their victims are accused of being engaged in, the only legitimate force of law and order is the PSNI.

Punishment beatings and shootings are a legacy of the past which must be ended. It is up to communities to provide police with the evidence to put the paramilitary gangs behind bars. These attacks should not be tolerated and would not be in any other part of the UK, or indeed any other civilised country.

Belfast Telegraph

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