Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Maranatha Community

1.  THE MARANATHA COMMUNITY

  1.1  The Maranatha Community is a dispersed Christian community with 10,000 active members drawn from all the churches in the United Kingdom and beyond. The Community has been active in work for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland for 20 years. It has helped countless families caught up in the troubles and in particular has assisted those who have been expelled from their homes and settled in Britain. It is strictly non-political and responds to requests for help which have been made to it over the years. Its members include substantial numbers of people drawn from both communities in Northern Ireland and include Protestants and Roman Catholics, Nationalists, Unionists and others.

  1.2  The Maranatha Community Trust is a registered charity and the movement receives no financial support from any other source than its own members. It has close relationships with countless individuals, church and public organisations, charities and voluntary groups throughout Northern Ireland.

2.  BACKGROUND

  2.1  Throughout the period of the past 30 years in Northern Ireland, there has been sustained activity on the part of organised groups who exercise or threaten violence in local communities, ostensibly in furtherance of their political aims.

  2.2  The nature of this violence has been demonstrated through the use of firearms, explosives, and weapons such as baseball bats and iron bars. The mere threat of this form of violence creates and instils fear within the community and individual families. In particular in "hard-line" areas many, and perhaps most, people obey the dictates of these groups. Alternatively, they run away.

  2.3  When specific threats are made, people have the choice of remaining and being assaulted and perhaps killed, and having their home burnt down or of removing themselves without delay on the order of the paramilitary group. These groups may insist that their victims move to another part of Northern Ireland, but more usually to Britain, or in a few instances the Irish Republic.

  2.4  Some victims who have been told to leave are allowed to return to their community on the condition that they pay substantial sums of money to the groups.

3.  THE INCIDENCE OF TERROR AND INTIMIDATION

  3.1  The incidence of terror has fluctuated over the years and the number of assaults within the Province has varied between approximately 10 and 50 each week. In some instances a substantial number of assaults have taken place in the same district during the same night, particularly where so-called "knee-capping" by the use of guns or staves takes place.

  3.2  Many expulsions and punishment beatings go unannounced and unreported. This is often because the victim has been warned that there will be further punishment to himself or herself or their family if the offence is reported to the police, or even recorded in the press.

  3.3  During 1994 and 1995 it was hoped that the first cease-fire agreement and the peace process would bring about a diminution, not only of attacks and threatened attacks, but also of the expulsions. Sadly, this was not the case. Similarly, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement it was again hoped that the situation would improve, but it did not. Yet again, after the implementation of the prisoner release programme, it was hoped that there would be an improvement in terms of expulsions and assaults, but there was not. After each of these three periods there was undoubtedly a temporary improvement, probably because of perceived damage to the image of the combatants. Similarly, there was a slight improvement after the debate in the House of Commons in February 1999 but this was not sustained. Expulsions continue to take place every week.

4.  THE NATURE OF EXPULSIONS, THREATS AND ASSAULTS

  4.1  Some victims are subjected to sadistic assault and torture, sometimes in front of their relatives and friends. Other assaults may be less serious, but are carried out in order to exercise control over the victims and also to transmit a clear message to neighbours, friends and relatives that the paramilitaries must be obeyed. The "punishment" frequently precedes an immediate expulsion order. This regime of fear has forced many, particularly young people who have gone through higher education, to leave Northern Ireland in disgust. Most, however, are unable to do so for social and economic reasons.

  4.2  The instruction to leave their home may or may not be carried out at gunpoint. It invariably has a precise time limit and breaking the deadline carries the immediate threat of death, as many have discovered.

  4.3  It should be noted that some expulsions and assaults are carried out in order to settle old scores, sometimes going back many years. Sons are often punished for what their fathers have done or vice versa. Others relate to controversies about such issues as control of areas and drug prices.

  4.4  It is often stated that most of the victims of "expulsion orders" or "punishment beatings" are criminals. Although some undoubtedly are, it is the experience of those who work with them that many are not. Some have already been punished through the legitimate judiciary system and are then punished again or expelled.

  4.5  Many have been expelled for speaking out or for their refusal to donate to specific collections, or to give "protection money" or to allow their property to be used for flag displays or painted slogans.

5.  PURPOSE OF EXPULSIONS, THREATS AND ASSAULTS

  5.1  The policy of expulsions and terror is a fundamental part of the consolidation of control by the paramilitaries over specific areas, rural and urban. This policy has been steadily implemented during the past six years.

  5.2  People are systematically intimidated and coerced into accepting that the paramilitary presence is the de facto authority, which must be obeyed.

  5.3  The paramilitary presence in many areas constitutes a quasi-judicial system. The majority of people living there, however, deeply resent their continuing and growing power, particularly as the possible threat of expulsion destroys their sense of security.

  5.4  Those who were originally supposed to be their guardians are now regarded as their oppressors, apart from the minority of activists, but are totally unable to express their views because of the consequences.

  5.5  The paramilitaries have clearly had to impress upon the various communities that they, and only they, have the ultimate authority. This authority is exercised against all those who in any way disagree with them or disobey them.

  5.6  Over the years, as the expulsions and punishments have gone unchallenged, the position of the various paramilitary groups has become much stronger. Each time they issue an expulsion order, which is obeyed, their power is reinforced. Each time they mete out "punishment beatings", the fear of them by the local community grows. Understandably, when violent people, exercising such authority, hold a strong grip on their communities, ordinary people are unwilling or afraid to speak out against them, or in any way be seen as disagreeing with them or disobeying.

  5.7  The message of expulsions and assaults being beamed to the community by the paramilitaries is basically that there is no rule of law as it is generally understood in the civilised world.

6.  DEVELOPMENTS

  6.1  In some areas when an internal and often violent power struggle takes place between individuals or factions within the same group, seeking the authority and prestige which often go with it, ordinary residents, year by year, have to stand by helplessly. The struggle is exacerbated in those areas where the paramilitaries are deeply involved in drug trafficking, the financial rewards of which are far higher then the income derived from the traditional protection rackets and other criminal activities.

  6.2  It should be noted that, after 1994, the nature of expulsions from the Province changed. Initially expulsions related to individuals, but these were then applied to entire families. In the same way some people are punished for the activities of other members of their family. Families or individuals may be publicly stigmatised, their names being put up on walls and anonymous accusations circulated. Other people in the community then become wary of having any connection with these families because they too may be ostracised and targeted for attack.

7.  PERCEPTIONS AND TRENDS

  7.1  There is undoubtedly enormous public opposition to the activities of the gangs which are associated with the various paramilitary groupings, but over the years the public has, in large measure, been silenced through fear and intimidation. There is a widespread feeling in the "hard-line" areas that nothing will ever change.

  7.2  There is considerable evidence that during both cease-fires the recruiting of young people by the paramilitaries continued to take place, and in some areas today it is accelerating.

  7.3  In view of public outrage against highly publicised atrocities, considerable efforts have, from time to time, been made by the paramilitaries to persuade their own communities that they are genuinely seeking to protect them. Doubtless in most instances the overwhelming majority resent this. Sadly, opposition is stifled by fear and the hurried exit and disappearance of neighbours and also the knowledge of nightly visits by gangs.

  7.4  The paramilitaries often artificially create supposedly popular support for what they are doing to punish miscreants. Undoubtedly, the public are, in many places, concerned about the incidence of youthful lawlessness and drug-related crime. However, instead of this problem being faced openly by the entire community, the situation has often been exploited for propaganda purposes.

8.  CHANGES

  8.1  A significant trend in the past few years has been the more open inflicting of injuries upon people. Although a large proportion of the assaults still take place at night, there is an increase in assaults taking place in broad daylight.

  8.2  Significantly, the victims are often, but not always, fully aware of the identity of their assailants, but dare not admit this for fear of fatal reprisal. Their assailants often do not bother to wear their familiar balaclava masks.

9.  PROBLEMS INHERENT TO EXPULSIONS

  9.1  Most of those who have had to flee from Northern Ireland have done so after specific threats or acts of violence. A substantial proportion of them has been told that they, and sometimes their families, will never be allowed to return. There is considerable evidence that those who have tried to do so have been severely attacked or even killed.

  9.2  Those who have left Northern Ireland have frequently done so with only a few hours notice, and in some cases less than one hour. They have been given no time to put their affairs in order: they have had to leave their job and in some cases the house in which they have lived all their life.

  9.3  On arrival in Britain they are invariably frightened, penniless and without any immediate support. In some cases they have never been out of Northern Ireland in their lives. In others they have never been separated from their loved ones. Most of them feel flung into an alien environment and, in addition to continuing threats on the mainland, experience acute emotional problems. Many experience breakdown.

  9.4  There is no Government agency or service with specific responsibility for them and their total lifestyle is changed and life anticipations are shattered. Most have no relatives or friends in Britain and on arrival are in desperate need.

10.  THE ROOTS

  10.1  The roots of the disorders are complex. Historical events, inherited attitudes, a real sense of injustice, together with the personal experience of pain and trauma all contribute to the bitterness, anger and hatred, which finds expression in violence and expulsions. This applies equally to both communities.

  10.2  The activities of the groups responsible for expulsions are undoubtedly controlled by those in authority in the paramilitary organisations. It should not, however, be overlooked that the groups putting pressure on people to leave, include those who use their position to settle old scores, sometimes going back over many years. Some of them have personality disorders. The problem in terms of the diminution of the activities of these groups lies in the fact that many of the participants have spent much of their adult life engaged in this kind of activity and feel a need to defend their supposed "street credibility".

11.  THE PRESENT SITUATION—A CONTINUING INJUSTICE

  11.1  The victims of expulsion orders understandably believe that they have been grievously deprived of their basic human rights.

  11.2  They feel isolated, rejected and forgotten, without an effective voice and destined to years of separation from their home, family, friends and community. In addition to this, many have lost their means of livelihood.

  11.3  The immediate need of those who have been expelled is for a house in which to live, for friendship and support, and for help with social benefits, housing and health care.

  11.4  In a number of instances the injuries inflicted upon those who have been expelled require immediate and continued medical support in Britain. The majority require counselling for the trauma which they have experienced—and in many instances such specialist support is not readily available. They arrive in Britain, often traumatised and tense, taking medication. Their tension manifests itself in the fear of the night, the fear of answering a doorbell or a telephone call, and the fear and suspicion of strangers.

  11.5  Some of those who come to Britain settle in happily, but most have a real and continuing sense of hopelessness. Some have committed suicide.

  11.6  There is now a need for the whole issue of expulsions of people from Northern Ireland to be addressed with extreme urgency. The situation affects thousands of people whose lives are being disrupted and in some instances destroyed.

16 November 2000


 
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