Belfast Telegraph

Two brothers aged 14 and 15 are forced to flee Derry after threats by dissident cowards

By Donna Deeney

Dissident republican paramilitaries have forced two children to flee their home.

The brothers, aged 14 and 15, are living in emergency accommodation after gunmen ordered them out of Derry on Thursday.

The boys' entire family has had to leave the city as a result of the command, and it is unclear if they will be allowed to return.

The incident is the latest in a growing series of acts of intimidation by paramilitaries.

It is understood that children as young as 10 have also been ordered out of their homes.

John O'Donnell, from the Time 2 Choose mediation project, which is run by the Rosemount Resource Centre, said the problem had escalated over the past few weeks.

The mediation service was set up to resolve the threat of violence from vigilante and paramilitary groups.

Last year, 38 people presented as homeless to the Housing Executive in Derry as a result of threats - the highest figure ever recorded.

Mr O'Donnell said his project prevented almost three times that number being affected.

Since the Time 2 Choose project started, it has dealt with more than 200 cases in which people have been threatened by paramilitary organisations. An increasing number of the victims are children.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr O'Donnell said: "There was an understanding over the past number of years with armed groups that with young people under the age of 16 nothing would happen them because they were children.

"People in the communities we work with historically do not go to the police, so they go to the armed groups.

"Kneecapping and beating people up didn't work for the IRA during the armed struggle, and it doesn't work now, and that is the conversation we have with these groups.

"Out of the roughly 200 people we have dealt with that could have been beaten up, expelled or shot that came through the Time 2 Choose project and engaged with us, nothing ever happened to them, so it has worked.

People under threat from paramilitaries who decide to contact the Time 2 Choose group are offered a range of helpful programmes, including counselling, education and diversionary projects.

"The armed groups have told us they are not driving around any of these estates, picking a name out of a hat and saying, 'We are going to go after that person'," Mr O'Donnell explained.

"It is the community that is coming to them and telling them to step in and do something. Once we hear of a name from the armed groups for whatever reason - selling drugs to children of 10 and 11 or stealing cars or whatever - we try and make contact to see if they will engage with us. But some people just aren't interested."

He added that many of the threatened children had little hope in their lives.

"When you hear their background story, you think that they never stood a chance," Mr O'Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph.

"(These are) children who are leaving primary school unable to read or write because their parents have no interest in them or education, so they don't go to school.

He also said that many of the children were drug users, adding: "They don't understand that if they buy a load of drugs and distribute them to who they think are their friends, that makes them a drug dealer, but they might not see it that way.

"If young people are addicted to drugs, we can get them help with that. If they need a counselling service, we can provide that.

"We have been able to get teachers on a voluntary basis to sit down with some of the young people and work with them.

"We have arts and crafts programmes that have been very successful and when you get young people to see there are alternative roads where they can have a future it is so satisfying".

Belfast Telegraph


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