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Sheer brutality of paramilitary attacks

The shocking attack near Ballymoney, Co Antrim, in which an 18-year-old boy was shot in each arm and leg was proof that loyalist paramilitary groups are capable of just as much brutality as their republican counterparts.

Intruders forced their way into a house in a rural district on the Moneycannon Road, outside the town, in the early hours of Sunday, before leaving the teenager with injuries which were not regarded as life-threatening but could only have left him severely traumatised.

No organisation has so far claimed responsibility but the location and the wider circumstances have prompted elected representatives to conclude that the UDA was likely to have been behind the outrage.

There will be particular concern that other shootings have taken place in the same area over recent years, including the 2015 murder of Brian McIhagga, without the culprits being brought before the courts.

Mr McIlhagga (42) died after he was shot in the leg, and there were indications that his assailants may not have specifically intended to kill him but were largely indifferent about his ultimate fate.

The conviction rate for attacks of this kind is alarmingly low, regardless of whether loyalists or republicans are involved, and it will probably only improve if ordinary people from all sections of society pass on key information to the police.

Paramilitary groups use both the threat and reality of such violence to impose their control on certain neighbourhoods and have no interest in either the human rights of their victims or the long-term consequences of their actions.

It is appalling that individuals who frequently have criminal backgrounds themselves are able to set themselves up as judge, jury and – in the case of Mr McIlhagga, among others – executioner.

The authorities need bring an end to so-called punishment attacks before someone else dies and they are entitled to expect full public cooperation as they pursue their investigations.

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