Belfast Telegraph

Campaign highlights reality of paramilitary-style attacks

Research: Anthony Harbinson
Research: Anthony Harbinson

By Staff Reporter

There were more paramilitary-style attacks in June than in any other month for the last decade, campaigners have revealed.

The news comes as a campaign aimed at informing the public about the brutal reality of so-called punishment attacks goes live today.

'Ending the Harm' is aimed at highlighting the devastating impact of paramilitary attacks on victims, their families, local communities and wider society.

It's the second wave of the multimedia campaign from the Department of Justice, launched in October 2018.

The campaign tells the story of a paramilitary shooting from the points of view of the four people involved - the victim, his mother, the paramilitary gang member and a witness.

The campaign will appear on radio, TV and social media, as well as on billboards across Northern Ireland.

Anthony Harbinson from the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme Board, explained the reasons behind the renewed awareness campaign.

"Before we launched this campaign, research showed that 35% of people living in those areas most impacted by paramilitary activity thought so-called 'paramilitary-style attacks' were justified in certain circumstances," he said.

"The purpose of this campaign has been to highlight the devastating toll these attacks have - and help people understand that the criminals who carry out these attacks don't care about people, or justice, or solving social problems in communities.

"They don't offer protection and they are only interested in exerting control and exploiting people for their own gain, using violence as a means to do so.

"Recent research carried out to assess the impact of the campaign, and get a snapshot of current attitudes towards so-called 'paramilitary-style attacks' in those areas, now shows that 19% of people believe they are justified. That's a 46% decrease which is encouraging.

"But the reality is these barbaric attacks are still an issue of concern."

The research which underlies the awareness campaign was carried out in May of this year in areas most affected by paramilitary beatings and shootings.

Mr Harbinson said that there was an average of one paramilitary-style attack every four days.

"The latest statistics show that between July 2018 and June 2019, there were 81 victims of so-called paramilitary-style attacks," he said.

"This includes 17 victims of shootings and 64 victims of assaults.

"That's approximately one attack every four days.

"In the previous 12 month period, there were a total of 79 so-called paramilitary-style attacks (20 shootings and 59 assaults).

"In June of this year alone, there were 12 assaults, the highest number in one month since April 2009.

"Although there has been a long-term downward trend, this is still an issue that we as a society need to deal with and this campaign is a vital part of tackling this scourge on our communities."

The board is chaired by David Sterling, Head of the NI Civil Service, and includes senior officials from a range of Stormont departments and the NIO. The PSNI attends in an advisory capacity.

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