The level of paramilitary intimidation in republican and loyalist areas revealed in a new report is “absolutely ridiculous” a former Policing Board deputy chief has said.
The Department of Justice, Perceptions of Paramilitarism report stated that 32% of people in loyalist areas and 24% in republican areas felt paramilitaries had a controlling influence, with the NI average being 14%.
It also stated that 29% of people in loyalist and 24% in republican areas think paramilitaries create fear and intimidation, compared with the NI average of 15%.
Based on the 2017 Life and Times Survey, the report also said that 10% of those in loyalist areas and 11% in republican areas believe paramilitaries keep their area safe, the NI average being just 5%.
Denis Bradley, former Policing Board deputy chair, said: “This is absolutely ridiculous and it is one of our great failures politically to have done nothing about this.”
He said NI must create proper strategies to tackle drug and alcohol abuse, to undermine paramilitary roles in supplying, policing or taxing the supply of illicit drugs.
This is absolutely ridiculous and it is one of our great failures politically to have done nothing about thisDenis Bradley
“The last 10 shootings by dissident republicans have all been drug related,” he said, while there are “suspicions” that loyalists are involved in supplying drugs.
In addition, he said, the dissident threat still means young Catholic police officers frequently have to move out of their home areas.
PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said that the recent murder of Ian Ogle by loyalists in east Belfast had prompted other families to come forward to report intimidation.
“That just over 56% of respondents feel confident in reporting crime to the PSNI should be a cause for concern for the police,” he added.
UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie said it was critical to decide if paramilitaries are just criminals. “Why when the police finally get the evidence to put them behind bars are they assigned the rank and status of paramilitary by allowing them to go into a separate prison regime?” he asked.
West Belfast People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said people are still “horrified” by routine paramilitary shootings and murders and the organisations’ roles as “gatekeepers and controllers”.
Younger people do not want to be dictated to by “self-appointed armed organisations” which give expression to people’s anger, instead of offering “hope that brings people together” he said.
Pastor Jack McKee of the New Life City Church on the Shankill Road in Belfast welcomed the report, but questioned why some people hold that “paramilitaries keep their areas safe”.
He added: “Who do they keep us safe from? For example, I remember throughout the years of the conflict that drug dealing within the Shankill community was kept at bay by the paramilitaries, but that is no longer the case. The question needs to be asked, ‘Why?’. I’ll leave the question open for others to answer as they see fit. So who do we as communities need to be kept safe from? And if credit is given to paramilitaries in some areas, and perhaps even in some political circles, then what does that say about the PSNI?”
DUP MLA Joanne Bunting added: “What is common across all communities is that the vast majority want to see society rid of these groups.”
According to PSNI figures from March 2018 to February 2019, there were:
• Two security related deaths;
• 16 paramilitary-style shootings, all but two in Belfast or ‘Derry City’ and Strabane;
• 56 paramilitary-style assaults, most in Belfast, Antrim and Newtownabbey and Ards and North Down;
• 15 bombing and 37 shooting incidents;
• 159 persons arrested for terrorism-related activity, mainly in Belfast and ‘Derry City’ and Strabane, the districts with the greatest number of bombings and shootings, with 15 people subsequently charged.