Supplementary Memorandum submitted by
Professor Liam Kennedy
AN ANALYSIS OF THE AGE AND GENDER OF VICTIMS
OF PARAMILITARY "PUNISHMENTS" IN NORTHERN IRELAND
"One of them pulled an iron bar from inside
a jacket and hit him across the face." This was the opening
blow of a "punishment" attack on a 15 year-old child.
The beating, which involved five masked men believed to be members
of the Provisional IRA, took place in a home in the strongly nationalist
New Lodge area of north Belfast on Sunday, 11 March 2001. The
boy, who has special needs and admits to juvenile delinquency,
was taken to the bedroom where he was struck with iron bars for
20 minutes. The blows were mainly to his head and upper body.
His jaw was fractured during the attack. Traumatised, disfigured
and barely able to speak, he was taken to hospital. Because his
mother voiced her outrage and despair, the name of the boy, George
McWilliams, featured momentarily in the columns of the nationalist
Irish News (see report, 12 March 2001).
Earlier this year up to 10 masked men, carrying
guns and batons, burst into a home on a housing estate in Belfast.
Their target was a 16 year-old boy with a reported IQ of 45. Gerard
had a troubled history, including severe depression since he had
been raped as a child by a relative. When his mother tried to
protect him from the intruders, she was also struck and called
a "fucking bitch". The local administrators of justice
then forced Gerard upstairs to the bathroom and, in the words
of his mother: "I could hear him screaming from in there.
After that they dragged him outside to the alleyway. I went into
the bathroom and saw blood everywhere; after that I passed out"
(see report in the Observer, 7 January 2001).
Cases of paramilitary child abuse are common
occurrences in Belfast, and in some other parts of Northern Ireland.
Dr Lawrence Rocke, senior consultant surgeon in the accident and
emergency department of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast
says that the youngest victim of a "punishment" beating
he has treated was just 14. But many others were only a year or
two older. "It beggars belief how people can set out to cause
pain and hurt of the terrible type we see in here so often."
(see report in the Times, 18 September 1999).
Table 1 below, based on data supplied by the
Central Statistics Unit of the RUC, gives a breakdown by age of
the victims of (recorded) paramilitary shootings in Northern Ireland
during the last dozen years.
Most victims of "punishment" shootings
were men in their twenties, accounting for just over half of all
victims within loyalist and republican communities. But it is
noticeable that a substantial minority were less than 20 years
of age. Although loyalists were responsible overall for more shootings
than republicans (636 cases as against 496), a majority of the
young victims "took the republican bullet". Within nationalist
communities some 30 per cent of all victims were less than 20
years of age. The corresponding figure for loyalists was 19 per
cent, a level more than a third lower.
SHOOTINGS: THE NUMBER AND PERCENTAGE OF VICTIMS
IN EACH AGE CATEGORY, 1988-2000
||Loyalist %||Republican Numbers
Does this pattern repeat itself when we come to look at punishment
assaults? There is a difference in the sense that republican groups
were responsible for more assaults generally than their loyalist
counterparts, though the difference is not great (769 instances
as against 737). More importantly, republican vigilantes, primarily
the Provisional IRA, continued to select in favour of younger
victims. Of the 769 nationalists assaulted or mutilated by republicans,
30 per cent were under the age of 20 (an identical proportion
to that for "knee-cappings" and other forms of shooting).
This is also well above the level found in loyalist-controlled
Nonetheless, too much should not be made of the differences
between loyalist and republican practices, in terms of the age
profile of their victims. The ugly common denominator is that
both terrorise large numbers of very young people. I cannot say
if this age bias also applies to the expulsion of people from
their home areas, but it would not be surprising if this was the
ASSAULTS: THE NUMBER AND PERCENTAGE OF VICTIMS IN EACH
AGE CATEGORY, 1988-2000
||Loyalist %||Republican Numbers
Just how young were some of the victims? We can, in fact,
get a more detailed picture of the ages of victims from figures
released recently by the Central Statistics Unit of the RUC. This
information is presented in Tables 3 and 4. It will come as a
shock to many, even to well-informed commentators on Northern
Ireland, that during the 1990s loyalist paramilitaries shot and
intentionally wounded 36 youths aged 17 years or younger. In a
display of parity of "punishment", republicans matched
this haul with an equal number of victims from within their own
Even larger numbers of youths were subjected to assaults
of the kind undergone by the 15 year-old George McWilliams, mentioned
earlier. Loyalists handed out savage beatings to 78 children and
juveniles, while republicans added a further 111 casualties to
the toll of human and family misery. Consistent with the earlier
analysis, children and adolescents in nationalist areas were more
likely to be the object of paramilitary abuse than is the case
in loyalist communities.
THE SHOOTING OF CHILDREN AND JUVENILES BY PARAMILITARY
||Loyalist %||Republican Numbers
ASSAULTS ON CHILDREN AND JUVENILES BY PARAMILITARY ORGANISATIONS,
||Loyalist %||Republican Numbers
It is overwhelmingly the case that males, usually from working
class backgrounds, were the targets of the paramilitary "justice"
system. Still, gender alone is not a safeguard against attack.
There were two recorded cases of shootings of women by loyalists
during the 1990s and none by republicans. It may be recalled also
that one of the most horrifying murders during the course of the
"Troubles" was that of a widow and mother of 10 children,
Jean McConville. She was abducted and murdered after she offered
assistance to a British soldier, wounded outside her home (see
Seamus McKendry, Disappeared: The Search for Jean McConville,
While the numbers of beatings and mutiliations of women were
small compared to those for men during the 1990s, they were far
from being negligible. Loyalist terror groups were responsible
for 33 of the 56 serious assaults on women between 1990 and 2000;
republicans accounted for the other 23. On average, therefore,
there were five women victims each year. Overall, women accounted
for 4 per cent of all "punishment" victims. By contrast
with the republican predilection for maiming children and juveniles,
loyalist paramilitaries were more likely to select female targets
for their attacks. As always with "punishment" statistics,
it must be emphasised that these are minimum estimates: the extent
of paramilitary intimidation and terror in working class communities
in Northern Ireland is greatly underestimated in the statistical
There is a further sense in which women experienced the trauma
associated with the "punishment" systems to a far greater
extent than the official figures might suggest. Mothers, wives,
partners, sisters, daughters have their homes invaded by hooded
men; they are threatened verbally, sometimes physically; they
are sometimes obliged to witness the beating of a male family
member, or to listen to the screams from an adjoining room; women
are in the front line in terms of caring for the traumatised and
broken bodies of their loved ones. Needless to add, women bear
a large if not disproportionate share of the worry for children
and adolescents who have been expelled from their homes and neighbourhoods
by the IRA, the UVF, the UFF and other strong-arm associations.
Some of these women are single parents, struggling to cope with
family responsibilities without the support of a male partner.
Even in the case of nuclear families, and in line with conventional
gender roles, mothers frequently assume the major burden of worry
for the welfare of the children.
It is instructive to look at the trends over time in shootings
and assaults on children and adolescents, that is, those in their
17th year or younger. Comparing the period up to and including
the Good Friday Agreement (1990-98) with the two years since the
Agreement (1999-2000), there has been no improvement in relation
to the shooting of young people. In fact the reverse was the case.
The annual average number of shootings was higher in the last
The deterioration goes farther back in time. In 1995, the
first full year of paramilitary ceasefires, there were no shootings
of young people at all. Since then the trend has been clearly
upwards, with an acceleration in "punishment" shootings
as we come closer to the present. It is clear that neither participation
in power nor the advent of restorative justice schemes has served
to reduce the incidence of vigilante-style shootings of young
people. Contrary to some impressions, the guns have not been silent.
When we come to look at trends in "punishment"
assaults on children and juveniles, the picture worsens dramatically
(see Figure). Not only are these more numerous than "punishment"
shootings, they frequently cause more severe long-term damage,
including post-traumatic stress disorder. During much of the 1990s
the frequency of these attacks was about one every month. (The
two exceptional years in the middle of the series were 1995 and
1996 when republican paramilitaries "compensated" for
their temporary abandonment of shootings by increasing the use
However, in the last two years the frequency of paramilitary
assaults have numbered almost one every fortnight. The increase
in the incidence of attacks on children and young people signals
a tightening of the control exercised by paramilitary organisations.
Another way of putting this is to say that loyalist and republican
gunmenthe power of the gun lies behind all types of vigilante
activity, from shooting to exilinghave not only ignored
the Mitchell Principles and the most elementary notions of human
justice, they have actually intensified the degree of repression
within working class communities. This appears to be particularly
true of loyalist paramilitaries. Since the Good Friday Agreement
they have, roughly speaking, doubled the number of beatings administered
to young people, as compared to the period 1990-98, while republicans
have maintained a more stable average level of violence.
It is little wonder, therefore, that some commentators on
Northern Ireland, including this writer, fear the consolidation
of a patchwork of Mafia-style mini-states, of orange or green
complexion, operating vendetta-style justice and sustained economically
by extortion and other forms of racketeering.
Loyalist and republican paramilitaries mainly terrorise males
in the younger age groups, those aged less than 30 years. Within
the younger age cohorts, the paramilitary abuse of children reaches
major proportions. This part of the cruel world of paramilitary
"punishments" is one which has received insufficient
attention. It follows that it is imperative, if a Children's Rights
Commissioner for Northern Ireland is appointed, that she or he
should become actively involved in championing the rights of young
people in the face of paramilitary abuse.
Women are much less likely to be the direct targets of paramilitary
violence but they are almost invariably implicated through their
relationship with men, as mothers, wives, partners, sisters or
carers. Indicative of the general neglect of those who suffer
under the paramilitary systems of "justice", they are
rarely supported openly by women's groups or spokespersons for
The trends in paramilitary-style "punishments"
are deeply worrying. There is no evidence that the participation
of the political associates of the IRA or the UVF in the Northern
Ireland Assembly, nor the participation of Sinn Fein in devolved
government, have led to a diminution of paramilitary control and
intimidation. What evidence exists tends to point in the opposite
direction. It might be argued that demands for treatment as normal
political parties should be combined with the assumption of conventional
democratic responsibilities. These might include a commitment
to a progressive reduction of paramilitary acts of shooting, assault
and exiling. There seems no good reason why the sovereign governments
in London and in Dublin should not insist on such targets. Measurable
indicators of paramilitary "justice" systems already
Political penalties might be exacted if commitments to the
phasing out of paramilitary repression are not met. This of course
presupposes a political will to deal with the epidemic of terror
in working class neighbourhoods and communities within Northern
24 March 2001