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Justice Minister Naomi Long facing call to provide police with resources to tackle paramilitary gangs

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Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Naomi Long is facing calls from Ulster Unionists, including Andy Allen, for money for police to tackle paramilitary gangs

Naomi Long is facing calls from Ulster Unionists, including Andy Allen, for money for police to tackle paramilitary gangs

Andy Allen

Andy Allen

Naomi Long

The Justice Minister is facing calls to ensure the police have adequate resources to shut down paramilitary gangs.

The Ulster Unionists are bringing a motion to the Assembly calling on Naomi Long to make sure the PSNI and other agencies have what they need to take on terror groups.

An hour and half of Assembly time has been allocated for the debate on Monday, to which Mrs Long is expected to respond.

Explaining why his party is bringing the issue to the floor of the Assembly, Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist MLA for East Belfast, said: "It's over 20 years since the Belfast Agreement was signed, and there is absolutely no excuse for paramilitary groups to continue to exert coercive control over communities.

"For far too long people and often entire communities have lived in a state of fear, being threatened and murdered by paramilitary gangs.

"The political leadership of this country needs to send a clear message that it has to end and demonstrate the political will to back the police with the resources they need to tackle all paramilitary groups, no matter what part of the community they come from."

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Naomi Long is facing calls from Ulster Unionists, including Andy Allen, for money for police to tackle paramilitary gangs

Naomi Long is facing calls from Ulster Unionists, including Andy Allen, for money for police to tackle paramilitary gangs

Naomi Long is facing calls from Ulster Unionists, including Andy Allen, for money for police to tackle paramilitary gangs

Brutal paramilitary-style violence shows little sign of ebbing away from Northern Ireland's communities, whether nationalist or unionist.

Knuckle dusters, baseball bats, hammers and guns were used by paramilitaries in attacks across Northern Ireland in 2019.

There has been an increase in the number of shootings, bombing incidents and paramilitary-style attacks in Northern Ireland over the past year, newly published police statistics have revealed.

There was one security-related death - the murder of journalist Lyra McKee by dissident republicans - from February 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020.

That represents a drop from three deaths across the previous 12 months.

However, there was an increase in the number of shooting incidents, bombing incidents and paramilitary-style attacks.

There were 19 casualties of paramilitary-style shootings compared to 13 in the previous 12-month period.

The figure almost doubled in Belfast from five to nine.

There were 63 casualties of paramilitary-style assaults, up from 53 in the previous 12 months.

Of the 63 victims, five were under the age of 18.

There were 19 bombing incidents, compared to 17 in the previous year and 40 shooting incidents, compared to 36 in the previous year.

The number of people arrested and charged for terror offences in the last year also dropped.

There were 128 people arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, compared to 166 during the previous year.

The number of people subsequently charged also dropped from 20 to 14 over the same period.

Commenting after a savage paramilitary attack in January, which left a west Belfast man with life-changing injuries, Mrs Long said: "Violence has no place in our society and the actions of those who terrorise their own community by bringing guns on to the streets must be condemned by all of us.

"Nothing justifies such attacks and they have no place in a Northern Ireland that is trying to move forward."

She continued: "These criminals would like you to think that they are protecting 'their' community and that the victims deserve what they get.

"But the reality is that those who carry out these barbaric attacks don't care about people or justice or solving any of the social problems that exist here.

"They are only interested in exerting control and exploiting our communities.

"They don't offer protection; they inflict fear using shootings, beatings, drug dealing, intimidation, and protection rackets as a means to do so."

Monday's motion will not place any obligation on the Northern Ireland Justice Minister to take any specific actions, an Ulster Unionist spokesman said, but the 90-minute debate will allow MLAs to make clear the strength of feeling in society about the need to crush paramilitarism.

Belfast Telegraph