Belfast Telegraph

A catalogue of brutality... by the thugs who shoot and beat children and then try to call it justice

Professor's report details 500 paramilitary attacks on the young in past 20 years... and criticises Sinn Fein for its attitude to the wanton violence

By Chris Kilpatrick

More than 500 children were shot or beaten by loyalist and republican paramilitaries over the past two decades, a new report has revealed.

Entitled They Shoot Children, Don't They?' the report compiled by Queen's University professor Liam Kennedy said some victims were as young as nine.

And he warned the recorded figures may be just the tip of the iceberg, with many victims too afraid to speak out or report violence for fear of further attacks.

The 'punishments' inflicted on young bodies included shootings - usually to the leg - and also severe beatings using a variety of improvised weapons including iron bars, cudgels, hammers, and hurley sticks.

During his research Prof Kennedy claimed a Sinn Fein office was "mentioned over and over again as a co-ordinating centre for punishment attacks on children and adults".

He also highlighted criticism of leading members of Sinn Fein for describing such attacks as "rough justice", and said one party activist confessed to having carried out a number of incidents.

Sinn Fein dismissed the report.

Prof Kennedy reported that between 1990 and 2013, 94 children under the age of 18 were shot by loyalist paramilitaries and 73 by republicans. Loyalists were blamed for 166 beatings and republicans 178.

Since 1990, Prof Kennedy said there were more than 500 child victims of paramilitary attacks.

In that time there were 4,000 premeditated paramilitary-style attacks on civilians of all ages, according to the findings.

The academic said Northern Ireland was "a blackspot for the abuse of children in a form that had no parallel elsewhere in western Europe". These various practices amount to gross human rights violations under the criteria employed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.

Prof Kennedy said some children committed suicide following a beating or the beating of a friend.

"It is not sufficiently appreciated that attacks on children actually intensified after the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994 and continued at high levels for a number of years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Thus, we are not talking about a phenomenon confined to the early years of the Troubles," he said.

"This means the victims and the perpetrators are very much in our midst."

Prof Kennedy said he was told by a consultant surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital that the youngest paramilitary victim he had treated was just 14.

Figures were obtained for the report from statistics held by the RUC and PSNI.

Between 1990 and 2013, 12 children under the age of 16 were shot by loyalist paramilitaries with 56 beatings. There were 82 shootings of 16 to 17-year-olds and 110 beatings.

During the same period republicans shot seven under 16s, with 35 beaten. Republican paramilitaries shot 66 teenagers aged 16 to 17 and beat 143.

Eight children under the age of 14 were beaten by loyalists and three by republicans.

Responding to the criticism of Sinn Fein, a spokesman for the party said Prof Kennedy made a number of "statements within this report in relation to Sinn Fein" but "offers little sign of evidence of his statements".

"Sinn Fein have been consistently on the record stating clearly that we are opposed to punishment attacks and shootings."

Across the age ranges, a simple majority of the victims were aged 18 to 29 years. A small minority were much older, aged 50 years or above, and these were more likely to be subjected to beatings rather than shootings. The oldest man shot by loyalists was aged 58, while the oldest shot by republicans was a 68-year-old pensioner. The oldest age for an assault victim was 75 years. He was 'punished' by loyalist paramilitaries in 2000.

Republicans had given a paramilitary-style beating to their oldest victim, a 73-year-old man, a few years earlier in 1997.

The number of shootings of all age groups by loyalists was 1,077 and the number of beatings was larger still at 1,413 for the period 1990 to 2013.

On the republican side, the comparable number of shootings was 759, and of beatings 1,022.

Earlier this month the Belfast Telegraph revealed two punishment attacks are taking place on the streets of Northern Ireland every week.

A man in his 30s, shot in the legs in Poleglass on Sunday night, was the latest victim.

Case studies

Boy aged 15 shot in both legs in Coleraine

Loyalist paramilitaries were blamed for shooting a 15-year-old boy in both legs in Coleraine last November. Three masked men entered a house at Glebe Avenue and shot him. One of the men was also carrying a baseball bat. The victim was taken to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine and transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he underwent surgery to remove at least one bullet. PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the shooting was "morally reprehensible". "Anybody who thinks shooting a 15-year-old progresses any legitimate aim is absolute madness," said the senior officer.

Youth aged 17 dragged into street and shot in the leg

A teenager was treated in hospital after he was shot in the leg in a paramilitary-style attack in north Belfast. Three masked men called to the 17-year-old's house in the Carlisle Road area of New Lodge in 2011. They dragged the teen outside and shot him in the leg for alleged anti-social behaviour. Sinn Fein MLA Conor Maskey said it was an act of "reckless violence". "The community of north Belfast are clear they do not want blood on their streets," he said. "Those responsible for these attacks need to fall in behind the efforts, led by the community, to create safer streets in the New Lodge area."

Teenager shot twice in each leg in Londonderry

A 17-year-old was shot in the nationalist Gobnascale area of the Waterside. The youth was in his bedroom at Virginia Court when the gang burst in and shot him twice in each leg in the 2009 attack, which was branded "medieval". SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey condemned those responsible and everyone who supported them. The MLA said those behind the attack wanted to gain a degree of acceptance in hard-pressed communities by posing as protectors. "But their real plan is to get enough community control to be able to run their rackets and profitable criminal activities while wrapping themselves in the green flag," he added.

Boy of 16 shot in both legs in front of his girlfriend

A 16-year-old boy was shot in front of his young girlfriend in Coleraine, reportedly by loyalist gunmen. The victim underwent surgery at Belfast City Hospital in an attempt to save one of his legs following the attack, which happened in 2008.Police said two masked men forced their way into a house in the Crescent area of the town and assaulted the youth before shooting him in both legs. It's believed that a loyalist paramilitary group was responsible for the shooting. PSNI Inspector Una Duffin said that the 16-year-old was attacked in front of his girlfriend in a "vicious and violent manner".

Teenager ended his life after abduction and beating

In 2004 a 17-year-old boy from Ardoyne took his life after a so-called punishment attack. He was abducted from his bedroom, bound with electric cable, beaten about the head, and thrown down a manhole by the INLA. He was accused of joyriding, which the family denied. He eventually managed to chew his way through the cable and after seven hours emerged covered in blood. He then found refuge at his sister's home. His sister said he never recovered from the "punishment" and was tormented with feelings of anxiety and paranoia. He killed himself a year later.

Youth dragged from his bed and beaten with sticks

Five masked men from the North Armagh 'brigade' of the Provisional IRA smashed their way into the O'Hanlon home, late at night, threatening the parents at gunpoint. The mother and father were obliged to stand by and listen helplessly to the screams of their son Eamon. After the ordeal the child was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. His parents did not speak openly or publicly about the 1999 attack but his sister said: "They never said what he had done wrong. They just dragged Eamon from the bed, threw him all the way down the stairs, lay him on his back and beat him with sticks embedded with nails."

Low IQ teen attacked by gang of 10 masked men

In January 2001 up to 10 masked men, carrying guns and batons, burst into a home on a housing estate in Belfast.  Their target was a 16-year old boy with a reported IQ of 45. He had a troubled history, including severe depression since he had been raped as a child by a relative. When his mother tried to protect him from the intruders she was also struck and called a "f****** b****". The teenager was forced to the bathroom and, in the words of his mother: "I could hear him screaming. After that they dragged him outside to the alleyway. I went into the bathroom and saw blood everywhere; after that I passed out."

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