Shock figures show brutal reality of paramilitary 'law' in Northern Ireland
Almost 20 years on from Good Friday Agreement, shock new figures show loyalist and republican violence remains a scourge
Loyalists carried out almost twice as many so-called punishment attacks as republicans in the last year, it can be revealed.
Some 60 attacks - both paramilitary-style assaults and shootings - were committed by loyalists between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, compared to 35 by republicans.
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According to figures released to the Belfast Telegraph by the PSNI following a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of assaults rose dramatically, from 36 between November 1, 2012 and October 31, 2013 to 71 between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017.
In the same period the number of shootings remained in the mid-20s each year.
Overall, the number of attacks rose from 62 to 95 in the last five years.
The figures come days after the latest brutal attack, when an 18-year-old man was shot twice in the legs at Pembroke Loop Road in Dunmurry on Saturday.
The PSNI described the attack "brutal and despicable".
The victim has been left with potentially life-changing injuries.
Republicans carried out most shootings in the last year (21), as well as 14 assaults, while loyalists carried out three shootings, but were responsible for 57 assaults between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017.
Loyalists carried out nearly twice as many attacks (60) as republicans (35) between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017.
The brutal weapons involved in these attacks included most commonly guns, but also baseball bats, often used in combination with other implements, including hammers or knives.
However, the list of known weapons also includes knuckledusters, weights bars, sewer rods, sledgehammers, bricks and flick sticks.
Pastor Jack McKee works with many of the victims of these attacks and also helps those under threat.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he slams the thugs, who he says leave their victims mentally and physically scarred for life, causing some to leave their homes and the communities they were brought up in, while others are driven to suicide.
"I know, because I have taken some of the funeral services, and have visited some who have been brutalised and some in hiding," he adds.
In February the pastor is to call for paramilitaries to stop all attacks for 40 days in an initiative called 39+1 - (40 days from February 19 - Good Friday).
"We are calling on churches, politicians, community organisations, the PSNI, paramilitary groups, and drug dealers to facilitate, promote and support only positive activities during these days," he writes.
Meanwhile, the head of the PSNI's new Paramilitary Crime Task Force has vowed to protect communities by tackling all forms of criminality linked to paramilitarism.
Chief Superintendent Bobby Singleton said the unit will focus on the activities of the UDA, UVF, INLA and AAD, adding that intelligence suggests these groups are concerned about the new police approach.
He said that the Continuity IRA, Real IRA and Oglaigh Na Eireann pose a threat to national security and fall under the remit of other agencies.
"Ultimately, the aim is to create a society where there are no paramilitaries and their influence is completely negated," he said.
"We have a role to play, for sure, but ultimately it is a whole societal piece, it is going to take a full spectrum to move things on.
"Our funding lasts for five years, but we are not underestimating the complexity of the problem and how ingrained paramilitary influence is within some communities.
"It's not the case that we weren't investigating paramilitaries before this, the x factor of this is the additional funding, which has allowed us to do things differently, it has allowed us to alter the way all three law enforcement agencies prioritise their work.
"For example, on any given day there are probably about 80 organised crime groups that we are actively monitoring and trying to manage within Northern Ireland, about 20-25% of these are paramilitary groups.
"We have a capacity within the PSNI which focuses on trying to investigate organised crime in general.
"In the past a number of those paramilitary groups would have been investigated, but you always have to prioritise (due to limited resources) and we always prioritise on the basis of threat, harm and risk, so the reality is that a number of those teams would have held those investigations but they would have been competing for their attention with other organised crime groups.
"The additional funding has allowed us for the first time within the PSNI to ring-fence a group of officers whose sole focus is paramilitary crime.
"They have been set to one side, joined by the National Crime Agency and HMRC.
"We have never had co-located law enforcement officers from all these difference disciplines focused on the same organisations and working in the same direction at the same time."