Many believe paramilitaries keep their areas safe, research reveals

One in 10 Republicans and Loyalists living in Northern Ireland believe paramilitary groups keep their respective communities safe, new research has found.

A report commissioned by the region’s Department of Justice gives the first in-depth survey of public attitudes towards paramilitary groups.

The Perceptions of Paramilitarism in Northern Ireland: Findings from the 2017 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey indicates that 10% of those living in mainly Loyalist areas and 11% of those living in mainly Republican areas believe paramilitaries keep their area safe.

UVF mural
An Ulster Volunteer Force mural in east Belfast (PA)

This compares with just 5% across Northern Ireland as a whole.

The report, published on Wednesday morning, delves in-depth into attitudes towards paramilitary groups on both sides of the community which continue to make an impact 20 years after the Belfast Agreement.

On Monday, an Irish republican group calling itself the IRA claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to three London transport hubs and the University of Glasgow last week.

In January, Loyalists were linked with the murder of community worker Ian Ogle in east Belfast, while the IRA exploded a car bomb in Londonderry.

Londonderry explosion
CCTV footage showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street in Londonderry (PSNI/PA)

Paramilitary groups have also been responsible for meting out so-called “punishment attacks”, with 94 victims recorded in 2016/17 and an average of 300 people made homeless each year due to intimidation by paramilitaries.

The report finds that less than half (41.5%) of respondents said they live in mixed religion areas.

It also finds that the vast majority (96.4%) felt either fairly safe or very safe where they live.

Belfast police report
An Irish Republican mural in west Belfast. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Most respondents did not have a positive view of paramilitaries, with 81% across Northern Ireland disagreeing that they kept their areas safe.

Almost a third (32%) of those who live in mainly Loyalist areas felt paramilitary groups had a controlling influence, with 24% in Republican areas feeling the same, compared with 14% in Northern Ireland generally.

And 29% of those living in mainly Loyalist areas and 24% living in mainly Republican areas think that paramilitaries create fear and intimidation, compared with 15% in Northern Ireland generally.

Ian Ogle death
A billboard from the Ending The Harm campaign in east Belfast close to a UVF mural (Rebecca Black/PA)

The Department of Justice is leading the Northern Ireland Executive agreed Tackling Paramilitarism Programme.

A total of £50 million has been pledged over five years, from 2016-2021, to deliver the programme which includes 38 commitments aimed at tackling paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime.

The most visible part of this has been the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce, in which the Police Service of Northern Ireland work with Revenue and Customs and the National Crime Agency.

But it also includes community and education strategies as well as a hard hitting advertising campaign called Ending the Harm.

Organised Crime Task Force
Anthony Harbinson, Director, Safer Communities, DOJ and Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Paramilitary Crime Taskforce (Michael Cooper/PA)

Anthony Harbinson, chair of the Tackling Paramilitarism programme, said the report is important to help understand the extent and impact of paramilitary activity.

He said the programme is “firmly committed” to addressing the issues raised.

“Most people do feel safe living in their areas and feel protected by the law and justice system but there are some parts of Northern Ireland where this is a real challenge and it is important to recognise and address this,” he said.

“The Tackling Paramilitarism programme is aimed at ensuring we can all live in a society where citizens and communities feel safe and confident, where the public support and have increasing confidence in the justice system and where paramilitarism has no place.

“This is the first time there have been in-depth questions about community perceptions on paramilitary influence in the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey and we will be monitoring the responses in the annual survey over the coming years.”

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