Pic: Jennifer Boyer

A by QUB professor Liam Kennedy entitled ‘They Shoot Children, Don’t They’ (1990 to 2013) details the harrowing accounts of both green and orange paramilitary abuse both during and after the Troubles – including statistics and case studies on punishment attacks, child beatings and threats of violence. The report cites abuse from both loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations, including the IRA and the UDA, however it is perhaps Sinn Féin who will be left reeling from its publication as it points the finger at the party as being complicit it some of these acts of abuse.

Sinn Féin centre implicated in “punishment attacks on children and adults in West Belfast”, report claims

The Sinn Féin centre ‘ Connolly House in Andersonstown’ is mentioned as a ‘coordinating centre for ‘punishment’ attacks’.

“It is widely believed in Belfast and in other parts of the North that Sinn Féin collaborated with the IRA in attacks on children. There was of course overlapping membership. The Sinn Féin centre, Connolly House in Andersonstown, was mentioned over and over again as a coordinating centre for ‘punishment’ attacks on children and adults in West Belfast.”

“Males generally ran the ‘punishment’ practices in loyalist – and republican – controlled areas but I have been told by a former public representative that at least one female Sinn Féin activist delivered notices to families telling them where to take their sons to be ‘shot by appointment’.

A few years ago I spoke to a Sinn Féin activist in Belfast who told me almost casually that he had done lots of ‘punishment’ shootings in his time. (‘What else could we do?’, was his view.)”

Mirroring the ‘Cahill’ case of late, the report notes that:

“It is not sufficiently appreciated that attacks on children actually intensified in the years after the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994 and continued at high levels for a number of years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Thus, we are not talking about a phenomenon confined to the early years of the Troubles. This means the victims and the perpetrators are very much in our midst.”

The report does not just focus on the republican groups however, as it notes: 

“In the early years, republicans dominated the vigilante stakes; in later years loyalists came increasingly to the fore, in part perhaps emulating republicans, though situational factors were likely to have dominated, including intra-paramilitary feuding. In the final years of the period, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, loyalists accounted for a majority of “punishment” beatings and shootings.”

Breaking down ‘punishment attack’ by age and group

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The report finds:

“Between 1970 and 2005, and to a lesser extent in recent years, loyalist and republican paramilitaries ruled the communities they controlled with an iron rod, sometimes literally so.

A significant proportion of the victims of vigilante ‘policing’ were children. The ‘punishments’ inflicted on young bodies included shootings and severe beatings using a variety of improvised weapons including iron bars, cudgels, hammers, and hurley sticks.”

  • Between 1990 and 2013:
  • 94 children were shot by loyalist paramilitaries.
  • 73 children were shot by republican paramilitaries.
  • 166 children were beaten – some badly mutilated – by loyalist paramilitaries.
  • 178 children were beaten by Republican paramilitaries.
  • In total, more than 500 children abused by the IRA, UVF, UDA etc.

There is little doubt that paramilitary abuse during the Troubles was rife – and one disturbing aside of the story is perhaps the abuse that continued after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and occurred under the guise of peace and reconciliation. For the victims of these crimes, no matter of what ‘community’ they live in or political affiliation they hold, man or woman, adult or child, answers are rightfully demanded and rightfully deserved.

“Paramilitaries enjoyed and enforced silence and compliance, even though the signs of abuse – welts, bruising, bandaging, swellings, crutches, wheel chairs – were highly visible but only in the neighbourhoods controlled by paramilitaries. It is worth reiterating the point that vigilante justice produced enormous pain and suffering for both adults and children, to no productive end. It deformed bodies and lives. It visited its wrath on some of the poorest, most powerless and most disadvantaged in Northern Irish society.”

Make sure to read the report – there are many interesting areas not discussed here, including ‘women under threat’, ‘exiles’, various cited case studies and the role of the media in reporting these issues. When we get our hands on the full document, we will embed it into this article for download. 

Jason Murdock | |

Image: Creative Commons –