Campaign exposes Northern Ireland paramilitary attacks

Some 87 people in North were attacked by paramilitaries in 2017/18

A new advertising campaign against so-called punishment attacks features the story of a paramilitary-style shooting from the perspective of the victim, his mother, the witness and the gunman.

The campaign run by the North’s Department of Justice is part of the Tackling Paramilitarism programme which is aimed at combatting such attacks.

While there has been some reduction in such republican and loyalist shootings and beatings it remains a serious problem.

In the past year there were 20 casualties of paramilitary shootings, down four from the previous twelve months.


There were 54 victims of “punishment” beatings, a decrease of 21 from the previous year.

In the past five years there were 417 victims of paramilitary “punishment” shootings and beatings.

The 'Ending the Harm' campaign runs on television, radio and outdoor adverts and goes live from 9 pm on Tuesday.

It also features a poster of a badly beaten man to demonstrate the seriousness of the attacks.

Anthony Harbinson, chair of the Tackling Paramilitarism programme board, said the attacks must not be ignored.

“The reality is that the perpetrators of these attacks don’t care about people, or justice, or solving social problems,” he said.

‘Exerting control’

“They are only interested in exerting control and exploiting people for their own gain. They don’t offer protection; their sole aim is to terrorise and control, and they use shootings, beatings, drug dealing, intimidation, and protection rackets as their weapons,” he added.

PSNI Det Chief Supt Raymond Murray said the campaign "highlights the devastating impact that paramilitary style attacks have, not just on victims, but their families, local community and wider society".

“The people who carry out these attacks are reckless, giving little thought about the trauma they are causing to people living in the area witnessing these barbaric acts of violence,” he said.

“Paramilitaries don’t carry out these attacks to protect communities. Instead, they do it to exert fear and control communities for their own selfish gains. These hypocrites acting as judge, jury and, in some instances, executioner do not represent the interests of any community,” he added.

Det Chief Supt Murray said “contrary to the perpetrators’ rhetoric” not all of their victims had been involved in criminality.

He said the causes of crime were complex and often linked to an individual’s mental health and substance abuse. “Beating or shooting people simply makes these issues worse,” he said.


“Evidence suggests that where people have offended, three quarters of people subjected to a paramilitary style attack will go on to re-offend within a year. In contrast, the re-offending rates of people who are dealt with through the criminal justice system are much lower - at less than one-third - clearly demonstrating there is a better more effective alternative,” added Det Chief Supt Murray.

“In simple terms, reporting crime to police is more likely to stop it. In many instances paramilitaries know this themselves but they don’t actually want the crime to stop, they simply want to control it or take their cut,” he said.

The officer said that while there were obvious difficulties in getting victims and witnesses of paramilitary style attacks to come forward due to fear the PSNI was far from powerless when it came to tackling such crime.

“We are targeting the groups and individuals we suspect are responsible for the attacks and tackling their wider criminality, be that drug dealing, money laundering, human trafficking or any other illegal activity,” he said.

The campaign is supported by the the website, which has real-life stories and information on where people can go for help.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times