Four attacked in N Ireland `punishment shootings'

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The Independent Online
THE LATEST round of so-called "punishment attacks" in Belfast has brought renewed political condemnation of a practice which is now regarded as a matter of routine in areas where paramilitary groups hold sway.

Both the IRA and major loyalist groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) continue to be involved in shootings and beatings of people, usually young men, whom they deem to be involved in "anti-social activity".

In the latest incidents four men were injured in two attacks in Belfast and nearby Antrim. In the first incident, a man was abducted from the Falls Road, while another was bundled into a car in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast. The two men, aged 27 and 29, were taken to an alleyway, where they each received one gunshot wound to the leg. They were being treated in hospital yesterday. The attack is assumed to be the work of the IRA: the group does not publicly admit involvement in such activities but it is an open secret that it carries out beatings and shootings.

In the second incident, five masked men, one of whom carried a gun, burst into a flat Antrim town. Two men in the flat were taken into the kitchen and beaten with metal bars and other implements, suffering head and leg injuries. In this instance loyalists are the prime suspects.

Most such attacks are carried out by paramilitaries. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in 1998 there were 51 beatings and 38 shootings by republicans and 86 beatings and 34 shootings by loyalists; a total of 209. These figures represent a decrease on 1996 figures, which totalled 320.

Many of the attacks cause permanent injury and scarring, and in a number of cases limbs have been lost when doctors removed legs after "knee-cappings". In some cases there have been deaths, as happened last summer, when a north Belfast man, Andrew Kearney, bled to death after being shot in both legs. The Kearney attack reputedly followed a quarrel between him and a senior IRA figure.

In 1997 a Belfast Presbyterian minister, wrongly suspected of being a paedophile, died after being attacked by loyalists who inflicted two broken legs, a suspected fractured skull and puncture wounds.

Most of the attacks are said to be carried out on individuals suspected of involvement in activities such as joyriding, burglaries and drugs, though some have a personal element.

One man who was seriously injured is said to have been attacked because he played loud music which disturbed the grandmother of a loyalist paramilitary figure.

Although paramilitary attacks produce political criticism, there is no real sign that they cause major resentment in either republican or loyalist areas.

This is partly because they have come to be regarded as a familiar feature of life there and partly because those attacked are presumed to have misbehaved in some way.

A west Belfast woman said yesterday: "Everybody shrugs and says they must have done something pretty bad for the Provos to shoot them, that they weren't shot for nothing.

People here generally approve of it, or more often they don't really care. There is no outrage about it - the only outrage comes from politicians."

The IRA last night highlighted the failure to grasp opportunities presented by its 18-month-long ceasefire. But in a new year statement in this week's issue of the Sinn Fein Republican News, it gave no hint about ending its cessation of violence. Instead, it called on the British and Irish governments to "face down" what it called an Unionist veto on advancing the Northern Ireland peace process.

The IRA said: "We approach the new year optimistic and confident of the ultimate achievement of our republican objective - a united and independent Ireland. We reaffirm our commitment to the establishment of a just and durable peace in Ireland."

But it added: "Eighteen months [after the IRA ceasefire] and nine months after the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement, the opportunity has yet to be securely grasped. Negatively, the Unionist political leadership appear intent on its erosion."

The question being asked by many nationalists and republicans was: would the British government "again succumb to the Unionist veto... Both governments have responsibilities to confront the attempted exercise of the Unionist veto and move the situation on."

High Cost in Health

and Housing

SHOOTINGS, beatings and continuing terrorism cost Northern Ireland millions of pounds last year, according to the pressure group Families Against Intimidation and Terror (Fait).

Its unofficial figures are higher than those recorded by the Royal Ulster Constabulary because they include attacks not reported to the police, incidents occurring south of the border in the Irish Republic, and so- called "exile" intimidation, where individuals are ordered to leave Ulster.

The figures claim that such acts of violence cost about pounds 3.1m in hospital treatment and in compensation for victims. A further pounds 4.15m was spent on rehousing civilians and members of the security forces.

More than pounds 1.5m was spent relocating civilians who were forced to leave the country.

According to Fait, shootings and beatings carried out by the IRA and loyalists between 1972 and 1998 were as follows: