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We cannot continue to tolerate barbaric punishment attacks

Editor's Viewpoint

Our report today that three of the five people maimed in so-called punishment attacks in the last month were named on a Facebook page before they were attacked is a shaming indictment of the society we live in. Not only were they identified but photographs of them were also published along with unsubstantiated allegations that they were involved in crimes.

Quite simply this is the law of the jungle. Even if the allegations had any iota of truth, we have a proper policing and justice system to investigate and punish those guilty of crimes. And as the PSNI has made clear in our story, police have made significant inroads in combating anti-social behaviour.

Anyone who believes they know criminals should make that information available to police to ensure that the guilty are caught. What should never happen is that such information is made available to gangsters who take the law into their own hands and commit even worse crimes.

Just imagine for a moment what it must be like for any young person - and these are most frequently young people - to be given an appointment to go to some dark alleyway to be shot in the legs or arms or - as has happened - to be left to bleed to death after such a shooting.

Consider if that was your child. Would you let them keep such an appointment with someone who will ruin their life or even end it?

Yet these gangsters - be they criminals, loyalist paramilitaries or dissident republicans - invariably escape any sanction. Police are hampered by the lack of information on which they can act.

It is the victims of these attacks that stand branded as criminals in their own communities while the real criminals, the hooded men who carry out the attacks, escape any retribution. Eminent academic Liam Kennedy, who has made extensive studies of punishment attacks, estimates that since 1969 some 10,000 people, including children, have been subjected to gun and baseball bat law. How as a society can we continue to tolerate this barbarity?

It is almost 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly supported by the vast majority of people on both sides of the border who believed it heralded a new beginning for Northern Ireland after three decades of squalid violence which cost well over 3,000 lives.

Yet here in January 2017 we still have growing echoes of that violence.

The number of punishment attacks in west Belfast has doubled in the last year even though the total number across the city has decreased.

Do we as a society, inured by past atrocities, think this is an acceptable level of violence?

Do we regard it as some sort of perverted policing in working class areas which bore the brunt of the Troubles and is still mired in the residue of that conflict?

Even our politicians, who pledged in the Fresh Start Agreement before Stormont imploded to clamp down on paramilitarism, go no further than issue ritual condemnation of punishment attacks.

They react but don't lead.

In any other normal society these attacks would cause horror and create headlines.

Yet will they even be mentioned at the forthcoming hustings as the parties vie for our votes on the promise of rebuilding the political edifices they have allowed to crumble? Don't hold your breath.

This newspaper makes no apology for its campaign highlighting this greatest of human rights abuses.

Anyone who believes in the rule of law should support us.

Belfast Telegraph

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