Northern Ireland: Eighty-one ‘punishment attacks’ in past year

One ‘paramilitary-style’ shooting or beating every four days, figures show

There were 81 ‘punishment attacks’ in Northern Ireland between June 2018 and June 2019.  File photograph: PA Wire

There were 81 ‘punishment attacks’ in Northern Ireland between June 2018 and June 2019. File photograph: PA Wire


A hard-hitting campaign exposing the “brutal reality” of so-called punishment attacks in Northern Ireland was relaunched on Monday by the North’s Department of Justice.

The campaign was relaunched as the latest figures showed there were 81 “punishment” attacks in the 12 months to June this year while in the previous year there were 79 such attacks.

The multimedia campaign, which was first launched in October 2018, tells the story of a paramilitary-style shooting from the points of view of the four people involved: the victim, his mother, the paramilitary gang member and a witness.

The Ending the Harm campaign, which is part of the Stormont Action Plan to Tackle Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime, is aimed at highlighting the “devastating impact” of so-called “paramilitary-style attacks” on victims, their families, local communities and wider society.

Anthony Harbinson, from the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme board, said that before the first campaign was launched last year there was a certain community tolerance for such attacks, but that was changing.

“Before we launched this campaign, research showed that 35 per cent of people living in those areas most impacted by paramilitary activity thought so-called ‘paramilitary-style attacks’ were justified in certain circumstances,” he explained.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

Mr Harbinson said that 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 showed that 19 per cent of people believe they were justified.

“That’s a 46 per cent decrease which is encouraging. But the reality is these barbaric attacks are still an issue of concern,” he said.

Mr Harbinson added, “The latest statistics show that, between July 2018 and June 2019, there were 81 victims of so-called paramilitary-style attacks. 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.”

Mr Harbinson said that “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”.