Northern Ireland

Fears over paramilitary control in communities explored in new report

The grip paramilitaries have on communities in the north has been examined as part of new research published by QUB academics.
The grip paramilitaries have on communities in the north has been examined as part of new research published by QUB academics. The grip paramilitaries have on communities in the north has been examined as part of new research published by QUB academics.

Concerns over paramilitary control in communities across the north have been examined as part of new research aimed at tackling paramilitaries and organised crime.

A new report launched at Queen's University shows that more than half of all people surveyed in 10 areas with a history of paramilitary activity believed the groups contributed to crimes including drug dealing and anti-social behavior.

Almost 60 per cent in the areas felt that improving the relationship between locals and the PSNI would make them feel safer.

The data has been compiled in a report that is part of the Communities in Transition project, which aims to help reduce the influence of paramilitary gangs.

The project is backed by The Executive Office, following recommendations made in an action plan the Stormont department published as part of a commitment to tackling paramilitarism in the wake of the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

The research brought together policy makers, academics, and community activists to hear about positive and negative experiences of those living and working in areas impacted by paramilitary control. 

The areas featured in the research are Belfast's Shankill, wider west Belfast, east Belfast, New Lodge and Ardoyne in north Belfast, Lurgan, Carrickfergus, Larne, North Down and Derry.

QUB's Dr Brendan Sturgeon and Professor Dominic Bryan worked alongside Co-operation Ireland in creating 10 area reports, based on engaging with 1,400 participants.

An overall report on all 10 areas states the project's primary objective "is to support the transition of these sites to a point where paramilitary groups no longer exercise influence, and their activity is no longer as prevalent".

Among key findings were 32 per cent of all participants agreeing or strongly agreeing that paramilitary groups "had too much influence on young people in their area", while 34 per cent felt such groups "created fear and intimidation".

In a report on the Shankill area of Belfast, 51 per cent of respondents said young people there "were under too much influence from paramilitary groups", compared to the 32 per cent average of other areas.

In Ardoyne, meanwhile, the number of people who believed paramilitaries were causing fear and intimidation locally was 40 per cent.

Professor Bryan said: “It is important that we understand the complex role played by paramilitary groups, understand how this is experienced by people and recognise the context around the use of coercive control including the economic vulnerability of these areas.” 

Co-operation Ireland's Lucy Geddes said the research work "will now go to inform how we transition our communities away from the coercive control of paramilitaries".