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Government challenged to take action over scale of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland

Paramilitary groups continue to have thousands of members, with organisations involved in hundreds of acts of violence and intimidation each year in Northern Ireland, according to new figures compiled by Detail Data.

(Large size infographic)

From 2006 to 2015 paramilitaries were responsible for

  • 22 killings,
  • 1,100 shootings and bombings,
  • 787 punishment attacks
  • 3,899 reports of people forced from their homes by intimidation
  • security alerts disrupting more than 4,241 train services.

Police believe there are currently 33 organised crime gangs directly linked to paramilitary groups, amassing tens of millions of pounds each year. But despite the scale of activity, the Northern Ireland Courts Service confirmed that from 2007 to 2015 there were just over 80 convictions secured under terrorism legislation, leading to 48 prison terms

Alan McBride of Belfast’s Wave Trauma Centre said he sees the impact of ongoing activity every day. “At least 50% of our referrals today are in relation to ongoing intimidation. “It is stuff that happened last week or the week before. In terms of this centre we would have on average 30-35 new referrals a month.”

How Rail and Road was affected by security alerts, 2013-2015

While some communities suffer higher levels of paramilitary activity than others, figures obtained by Detail Data also illustrate the scale of disruption across Northern Ireland. Data secured through Freedom of Information requests made to Translink and PSNI showed how security alerts and paramilitary attacks had forced road closures and stopped rail travel. From 2013-15 there were 193 road closures, while between 2006-15 there were 176 security alerts on rail lines, halting more than 4,000 train services.


A Fresh Start?

According to Michael Culbert of Coiste na nIarchimí, a group that works with former PIRA prisoners, removing barriers to employment would also eliminate a potential recruitment tool for dissident groups. "A weapon being used against support for the peace process are people, a lot of them former political prisoners, pointing and saying nothing has changed,”he said. “There is a sizeable rump, not very big, but if we are truthful about it, it only takes one finger to pull the trigger.”

Government is criticised for failing to introduce a re-integration strategy for former paramilitary prisoners. In addition, the Department of Justice said it had no official figures for the numbers of former paramilitary prisoners. But estimates place the figure for ex-prisoners that were jailed during the Troubles at 30-40,000. The Northern Ireland Office declined to reveal how many of the 464 prisoners released early from jail under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 had since breached the terms of their release.However, the Sentence Review Commission confirmed that since 1998, 21 of the prisoners released early were recalled to prison, while 13 ultimately had their early release licence revoked.

Tom Roberts of EPIC, a group working with former prisoners from the loyalist UVF, said a working group from OFMDFM had produced a strategy to reintegrate ex-prisoners. He said the employment guidelines the working group proposed in 2007 failed as a result of political barriers. “If you don’t give people who were involved in the conflict the chance to avail of the services that are available to the general public then it makes it more difficult for these groups to civilianise,” he said. “The ex-prisoners’ working group which has been chaired by the successive heads of the civil service has been in operation since the Good Friday Agreement. And while the civil servants who service that group have been more than helpful in trying to address the issues, without the political will there has really been no movement on those issues.

To read the full investigation by Cormac Campbell, click here.

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