Punishment attacks in NI rising as ‘enforcers’ ramp up assaults

Police appeal for witnesses after 17-year-old shot three times in legs by masked assailants

As another young man is treated in hospital after the latest so-called punishment attack, the most recent PSNI figures show a significant increase in the number of such incidents in Northern Ireland over the past two years.

In the 12 months to January 31st this year there were 81 such paramilitary attacks in the North compared to 65 in the previous year – an increase of 16.

In the past year there were 47 assaults and 34 shootings, most of which are blamed on dissident republicans seeking to exercise control in areas such as west and north Belfast and in Derry. Loyalist paramilitaries also are involved.

In the previous year, according to the PSNI figures, there were 41 assaults and 24 shootings.


The most recent shooting happened around 9.20pm in west Belfast on Tuesday night when a 17-year-old male was shot, sustaining three wounds to his legs

Police said he was shot after several masked men forced their way into a house in Monagh Drive. His injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Det Insp Michelle Griffin appealed for anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with any information to contact the police.

Victims of such attacks are frequently accused of anti-social behaviour in their areas. During the Troubles and since then there have been frequent occasions when the beating or shooting took place by “appointment”, with the victim agreeing to take the “punishment” rather than face some more serious attack.

Sinn Féin west Belfast Assembly member Pat Sheehan condemned the latest shooting and said there could be no place for such actions in society.


“Those behind attacks like this are not representative of the community in west Belfast,” he said. “Whoever was responsible for this attack needs to listen to the will of the local community who want to move on and want these attacks to stop immediately.”

SDLP west Belfast MLA Alex Attwood said the shooting was "barbaric" and could never be justified. "They can leave people disabled for life and risk death," he said.

“There is a very small number who seek to gather support by becoming enforcers and the community must stand against this . . . They seek only to drag us back to the past and its abuses of rights. They must be resisted at all times,” said Mr Attwood.

Alliance Policing Board member and MLA Trevor Lunn said paramilitaries must have no place in society: "They are adding nothing to Northern Ireland except to bring violence and fear on to our streets."

He added: “This was a despicable attack carried out by dangerous and callous individuals who must be urgently apprehended by the police. What kind of sick person shoots a defenceless boy three times . . . No one deserves to be the victim of such a brutal and vicious attack.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times