22 Mar 2018

Why are parents bringing their children to be shot in Northern Ireland?

Paramilitary punishment shootings and beatings have risen in Northern Ireland by 60% in four years, according to new figures, with police saying some parents are bringing their own children to be "punished" by gangs for crimes such as drug dealing.

Ciara Kenny
Ciara Kenny The Irish Times, Ireland
Source: The Irish Times
Why are parents bringing their children to be shot in Northern Ireland? - NewsMavens
Screen shot from preview of documentary film "A Mother takes her son to be shot"

Why this story matters:

Over the course of five years, Irish journalist Sinead O'Shea has filmed the story of the O’Donnell family in Derry, whose son Philly had been accused of drug dealing. His mother Majella took Philly to be "looked after", which involved him being "kneecapped" or shot in the back of both legs.

"A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot" has been nominated for an award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival, and Oscar-winning director Joshua Oppenheimer is now executive producer, but no UK broadcaster will commit to screening it.

O’Shea sees the apathy with which her film has been met in Britain as “part of the same general lack of engagement in the UK regarding Northern Ireland”.  

“Some of the people I met during the making of my film are just waiting for an excuse to return to the Troubles,” she writes. “They continue to nurse grievances, they plot, they openly carry arms, indeed they yearn for bigger and better weapons. They miss the drama of war, and the identity it gave them.”

When it comes to Brexit and how it will impact Ireland, there has been much focus, and rightly so, on the border between the Republic and the North and the effect on trade. But as O'Shea's film so forcefully displays, tensions are simmering in communities that are still very divided. The balance of peace in Northern Ireland is delicate, and the potential impact of Brexit on that has to be considered from all sides.

In O'Shea's eyes, the UK "bears grave responsibility" for the events she captured on film. She adds:

"[The UK] must govern all the people there, even those who remain unreconstructed and inconvenient.”

violence, family, youth, crime

Details from the story:

  • Paramilitary-style “punishment” shootings and beatings by republicans and loyalists have surged again across Northern Ireland in recent years, latest records from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show, up 60 per cent in the past four years
  • Many of the victims are often beaten after being accused of criminal actions from drug dealing to car theft, without any form of legal representation or appeal.
  • PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said some parents were “acquiescing” by bringing their children to appointments for beatings and shootings, plying their children with alcohol or giving them powerful painkillers before “appointments” with the “punishment” gangs.
  • In 2017, there were 101 shootings and beatings by republican and loyalist paramilitaries.
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