Belfast Telegraph

Belfast city centre rally to protest at brutality of paramilitary 'punishment' attacks

By Allan Preston

A rally has taken place today in Belfast to protest at so-called punishment attacks.

The event outside the City Hall follows a spate of paramilitary shootings.

Earlier this week two men were targeted in separate attacks in north and west Belfast within the space of an hour.

And in April Michael McGibbon, a 33-year-old taxi driver, was left to bleed to death after being shot three times in an alleyway in Ardoyne.

Today's event calling for an end to paramilitary terror took place at 1pm.

The protest has been organised by the cross-community group Children Of The Troubles.

Liam Kennedy, a history professor at Queen's University, is one of those behind the rally.

He said the shootings this week - and the recent murder of Mr McGibbon in a 'shooting by appointment' - had inspired the demo. "It's an appalling situation, not just in Belfast but in Derry as well," he said.

"It almost beggars belief people will turn up for shootings by appointment, but in these tight-knit communities people's whole sense of selves and what's meaningful in their life is tied up in the local neighbourhood and community.

"So the idea of leaving is an appalling prospect. Particularly for young people."

He added: "One of the very good things about north Belfast is that people did come out on the streets and protested against that. There is a task of shifting local public opinion because in some areas there is still a residual acceptance of this so-called justice.

"Raising public awareness and shifting public opinion is a long-term project that will eventually undermine the activities of loyalist and republican paramilitaries."

Dr Irene Boada from the group added: "Loyalist and republican gunmen terrorise our communities. It is time to challenge the thugs and demand that they leave the people in peace."

Latest PSNI figures show that during 2015/16 there were 14 casualties resulting from paramilitary-style shootings - a 61% decrease in the number from the previous year, and approximately half the number recorded 10 years ago in 2006/07.

Thirteen of the 14 casualties were attributed to republicans and one to loyalists.

There were 58 casualties as a result of paramilitary-style assaults in 2015/16 - the same number as in 2014/15 and 10 more than the 48 recorded 10 years ago. Of these, 47 were attributed to loyalists and 11 were attributed to republicans.

On Wednesday night a man in his 30s was shot in the leg in an alleyway close to a primary school in Poleglass in west Belfast.

Less than an hour later, in Ardoyne in north Belfast, a 30-year-old man was shot in both feet after being dragged from a house in Cranbrook Gardens.

Remarkably, the bullets failed to get through his footwear and he was taken to hospital with minor injuries to his feet. Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly led the condemnation.

"Those responsible for these shootings are at war with the community," he said.

Mr Kelly called for anyone with information about the attacks to contact police.

Belfast Telegraph

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