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Malign influence of paramilitaries needs to be challenged

Forcing people to leave their homes is one of the most insidious tactics used by paramilitary organisations, ensuring that these illegal groups maintain their control in certain districts by deciding who stays and who goes.

Unfortunately, this type of intimidatory behaviour is far too prevalent in our society and can never be regarded as acceptable in any way.

In the latest appalling example of this criminal conduct, a grieving mother, whose son died only a few days ago, was ordered to leave her home in north Belfast on Sunday evening.

The woman had been living in private rented accommodation in the loyalist Summer Street area for more than a year when she was threatened, the windows of her home smashed and sectarian graffiti daubed on the walls.

Sinn Féin's Caral Ní Chuilin blamed the UFF for the attack which she condemned as `sickening and depraved'.

Everyone is entitled to feel safe in their own home and it is absolutely despicable that individuals or organisations take it upon themselves to drive someone from a particular area.

Further evidence of the pernicious influence of illegal groups has come from the Wave Trauma Centre which has reported that around a third of its referrals involved recent paramilitary intimidation.

It cited the case of a young woman who is effectively living under house arrest, warned by paramilitaries that if she is seen on the streets `there will be bother.'

This is not the type of society that was envisaged when the Good Friday Agreement was drawn up and it is clear we need to do more to eradicate the malign activities of both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

It is also disturbing to learn that some Syrian refugees who fled horrendous conflict and came to Northern Ireland under the UN vulnerable person's scheme, have been subjected to racist abuse.

While the majority of refugees brought to the north have not experienced any serious problems, that is not the case for six families living in west Belfast.

They have described how their children are unable to play in the street because of intolerant attitudes while one mother told how someone armed with a knife had attempted to break into her home.

A report by the human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights has also raised concerns over housing conditions including damp and rodent infestation.

These are issues that need to be urgently addressed.

Everyone is entitled to live in a home that is warm, dry and safe. They are also entitled to get on with their lives without fear of sectarian or racist abuse.

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