Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memoranda submitted by Professor Liam Kennedy, Professor of Modern History, The Queen's University of Belfast



  The expulsion of individuals, or sometimes whole families, from their homes has to be seen against the larger background of paramilitary repression in Northern Ireland. Expulsions are but one element in a repertoire that runs from warnings, threats, public humiliation, mass pickets outside homes, beatings, shootings, to expulsions and death. The common denominator is that violence or the threat of violence underpins all of these. Violence is the means whereby paramilitary organisations exercise a degree of control—in some working class areas almost total control—over the lives of people. "Punishments" in turn are a sub-part of the overall functioning of paramilitary organisations, which also includes racketeering, drug-dealing and other fund-raising activities, and, until the partial ceasefires, bombings of civilian and military targets, attacks on the security forces, and assassinations of civilians deemed to be "legitimate" targets, or sometimes simply civilians at large.

  With the coming into being of the partial ceasefires, "punishments" have assumed a relatively larger part in the activity of paramilitary organisations, though it is fair to say they always bulked large. Paramilitary organisations in the past sought to convey the impression that such activity was a minor set of pursuits in which they were reluctantly engaged, but this is demonstrably not the case. It is, in fact, a core activity.

  It is also worth emphasising that the system of "punishments" and control is exercised over their "own" people. Thus in Catholic and Nationalist areas it is the Provisional IRA that exercises control over fellow nationalists. In Protestant and Loyalist areas it is the UFF, the UVF and, to a lesser degree, the LVF which inflicts punishment on fellow Loyalists. This is worth emphasising because outside observers are sometimes puzzled to hear that the Provisional IRA maims, mutilates and expels Nationalists as par of its continuing campaign to control public life within its areas of influence. This is green-on-green violence. Similarly in Loyalist areas we are talking about orange-on-orange violence. The paramilitary system of control represses its own people in arbitrary, unaccountable and brutal ways which would be unthinkable in liberal democratic society.


  There are different kind of expulsions, leading to the displacement of civilians in Northern Ireland.

    —  Local: for example, moving from one part of Belfast to another, possibly only a few streets away, as in recent Loyalist feuding on the Shankill; or from one district to another, but within the same town.

    —  Regional: movement within Northern Ireland, from one town to another or from one rural district to another. For example, a work colleague of mine was forced to leave Antrim town because he and his brother were involved in a relatively minor pub fight. One of the other two men had Loyalist paramilitary connections. The following evening he was given 24 hours to leave the town. He moved to North Belfast.

    —  Out of Northern Ireland: this could mean a movement to the Irish Republic, an option more open to Nationalists than Loyalists, but more usually the destination is Britain. In principle the movement could be to mainland Europe, North America or elsewhere, but I would imagine there are very few such cases, for economic and cultural reasons (to which may be added the difficulty of obtaining work permits in the case of places outside the European Union).


  Those most likely to be driven out by paramilitary organisations are those who represent a perceived challenge to the authority of the Provisional IRA, the UVF and the UFF in local areas. These might be people who openly voice political disagreement, as in the case of Councillors Hugh Lewsley and James Fee of the SDLP, or critical intellectuals such as the Republican Anthony McIntyre; those the paramilitaries accuse of being petty criminals; those whose criminal activity might compete with that of the paramilitary organisations, particularly in the area of drug dealing; members of the same or competing paramilitary organisations who are perceived as a threat either to discipline, local control or the interests of a ruling faction; people in disfavour with elements within a paramilitary organisation for whatever reason, ranging from private vendettas, as in the case of the murder of Andrew Kearney by the Ardoyne Provisional IRA, to paranoia on the part of paramilitaries, through to cases of mistaken identity.

  In the nature of things, the victims are likely to be young, working class and male. This was true until recently. However, the mass movement of people linked to, or perceived to be linked to, the UFF or the UVF in the Shankill Road area of Belfast this autumn and winter has given a family character to the problem. One of the councillors for the area, Dr Chris McGimpsey, told me on Remembrance Sunday that he reckoned more than a thousand people (possibly as many as 1,200) had been displaced—men, women and children—in a two-way exchange of population between the UFF dominated estates and UVF dominated estates. The distress and the depth of bitterness to which this gives rise are not difficult to imagine. It conjures up images of ethnic cleansing, except the victims come from different sections of the same ethnic grouping and the security forces ensure that the feuding is contained within limits.

Personal Experience

  My direct experience with victims of paramilitary threats have been individuals, a small number who have stayed with me temporarily while en route to safer accommodation, usually in England. My most intensive engagement was with two young Newry men, Liam Kearns and David Madigan, who had been falsely accused of attacking a Sinn Fein sympathiser, and were ordered to leave Northern Ireland under threat of "direct military action" by the Provisional IRA. The two men, and their families, with the help of various peace groups, resisted the Provisional IRA threat, and lived in various parts of Northern Ireland until the threat was lifted unilaterally by the paramilitaries one year later. The men then returned to their family homes in July 1992. The reason the paramilitaries withdrew their threats on this occasion was because the families and the campaigning group had succeeded in gaining considerable public attention for the case. This included the critical attention of the founder of Amnesty International and of the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, which clearly embarrassed Sinn Fein.


  It might seem that being driven out of one's home area is one of the lesser of the paramilitary "punishments". But this is not how some of the victims see the world. Some would prefer a shooting in the leg to expulsion; I've been surprised by this but it is a point that has been made to me on a number of occasions, and it is borne out by the fact that some victims turn up by arrangement, on time, to be "kneecapped". My 20 year old daughter told me two weeks ago of the case of one of her young acquaintances in the village of Ballynahinch, Co Down. He had been ordered out of Ballynahinch by loyalist paramilitaries, had taken a flat in Newtownards, less than 20 miles away, and was visited from time to time by friends from Ballynahinch. In the end the strain of living on his own, of being cut off from regular contact with family and friends, and the squalor of the flat, drove him back to his home village. He accepted being shot in the leg in preference to continuing to live in "exile" in another Loyalist area. Fortunately, his was one of the less damaging cases of a paramilitary "punishment" shooting, at least in a physical sense.

  Why should people, usually young men, find the prospect and the experience of expulsion so traumatic? I can only generalise from a small number of cases, but my impression is that we easily underestimate the shock of the initial threat and the problems of living in what is perceived as an alien area. The latter involves negotiating accommodation needs, running a household (if not being looked after by some voluntary group), making a living through social security benefits or seeking work, and, above all, surviving without the emotional support of family and friends and the familiar surroundings which give meaning to life. The social skills needed are considerable. These may well not be available to young men from working class backgrounds, often lacking academic qualifications, regular job and travel experience, self-confidence and the skills needed to survive in a strangely new environment. The loss is not of course confined to the exiled person: in addition, there are the worries and sense of loss experienced by loved ones back home. Small wonder then that some place exile in the same category of seriousness as physical mutilation at the hands—literally—of the Provisional IRA, the UVF or the UFF.


  As with so many of the big stories concerning the victims of paramilitary ruthlessness, little is said about the phenomenon of exiling. Why? It is not as if these human stories are of little interest to the print and sound media. Little is said because there is so little to go on. Few break the wall of imposed silence. To speak out against the Provisional IRA, the UVF or the UFF in many working class areas is to invite further retribution, either for the victim or his family. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the victims or their families do not publicise their experiences, except in the cases which involve paramilitary feuding where victims may feel confident of the support of one or other of the terror groups.

  What is more surprising is the supine attitude of the community groups, civil liberties groups like the Committee on the Administration of Justice, of peace "monitors" from overseas, and of some politicians who seek to pass over the terror exercised within working class areas with a flourish of words such as "well, we know this is an imperfect peace". What is happening is a national and an international disgrace for the rule of law, in the United Kingdom and on the island of Ireland. Turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the problem of paramilitary domination of certain areas, including the practice of exiling, is a gross betrayal of some of the most vulnerable, powerless and disadvantaged members of our society.


  1.  Chart of so-called "punishment" shootings by paramilitary organisations since 1973

  2.  Chart of so-called "punishment" beatings by paramilitary organisations since 1982

  The data for the year 2000 are estimates based on evidence for the first half of the year 2000.

19 November 2000


  Those two wonderful words, "human rights", are used extensively in discussions of the state we are at in Northern Ireland. The term should suggest compassion and protection for vulnerable people. Yet the human rights debate in Northern Ireland is extraordinary for its neglect of paramilitary "punishments".

  At local level, we have the silence of the streets, for the obvious reasons of fear and intimidation. But in public discussion we might expect more, not least in view of the number of groups, organisations and academic units in Queen's University and the University of Ulster professing a concern with human rights issues. Instead we have a heavily lop-sided agenda where State abuses seem to be the only show in town. In effect, the agenda for the discussion of human rights in this society is a grossly distorted one. You can trip around any number of conferences and seminars on state abuses of people's rights. I'm all in favour of exposing State abuses of power. But at few of these will you hear anything about the most serious and most pervasive forms of rights' abuses, which have to do with the activities of the IRA, the UVF and the UDA. It just doesn't seem to be polite to raise the most obvious question of all: what is to be said and done about paramilitary threats, shootings, mutilations and exiling of people, sometimes children, in the communities controlled by paramilitaries.

  Interestingly, outside agencies like Amnesty International and Helsinki Human Rights' Watch have commented insightfully on the situation here. Many locally-based agencies have not.

  It is astonishing, for instance, that the Committee on the Administration of Justice has turned a blind eye, apart from the odd perfunctory statement, to such concerns. Among a long list of publications from that body, which includes discussions of anything from plastic bullets to the Irish language, you will not find one that tackles these issues. The same is true of the various copies of its magazine, Just News. Looking at articles published during the last two years, there is not a single report on paramilitary "punishments". It is as if these happened on another planet. Alternatively, members of the CAJ may inhabit another planet. In that period, it may be recalled, there were more than 200 "punishment" shootings by Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, and of course many other forms of "punishment" visited on individuals and families. More than any single agency, the CAJ has contributed to the distortion of the human rights agenda in Northern Ireland. I say this while acknowledging the much good work it has done; indeed the two are probably interrelated.

  Another agency that seems to have taken a self-inflicted vow of silence is the Children's Law Centre in Belfast. Yet in recent years, even in recent weeks, we have had horrific attacks on children by paramilitaries. The silence from the Children's Law Centre has been deafening, and one might wonder what its definition of children's rights really adds up to. There is a problem of paramilitary child and family abuse, and it is hard to see why issues of law should not have some bearing on the matter.

  We hear much about the importance of the institutions in civil society. Most of us would go along with this. But again the appalling reality is that community groups, some of whom are less than representative of local opinion, have been silent. In some instances, this has been due to fear and intimidation. In other cases it reflects a narrow political bias. To take one example: Feile an Phobail, which takes some pride in the craic it introduces into social life in West Belfast, might also consider addressing the other crack: the breaking bones of young Nationalists in West Belfast. West Belfast has the highest incidence of "punishment" attacks of any Nationalist area of Northern Ireland. Community groups abdicate responsibility and look the other way.

  At the formal political level, we might wonder about the urgency with which the political administrators of this province view threats, mutiliations and torture. We might also raise questions about the contribution of paramilitary political parties to these debates. Can they speak with other than forked tongues when their collaborators in the paramilitary underworld continue to violate people's bodies and minds? More generally, is there a tendency to "see no evil, hear no evil" in the matter of violations of human rights by non-state organisations, as the research of Professor Colin Knox would appear to suggest? Certainly there seems little appreciation, at government level in Belfast, in Dublin and in London that Northern Ireland, in human rights terms, is a disaster area.

  The distortion of the human rights debate here is only part of the story. Closely related is the selective making of a canon of martyrdom, under the shade of human rights concern. More than 10 years ago I joined with others in calling for the opening of a new enquiry into the killings on Bloody Sunday. I also think it is important that the murder of Pat Finucane is investigated thoroughly. But I think it is equally important that the murder of Joey O'Connor, who was shot dead in West Belfast in recent months, is also impartially investigated. There have been reports that members of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA were involved, and these claims need to be explored just as dispassionately as allegations of collusion by the security forces in the Finucane case. Indeed, in the public interest, we need to know much more about both Joey O'Connor and Pat Finucane, and their range of activities, and not just who might be responsibile for their murder.

  Similary, if the vile murder of Rosemary Nelson is to become a cause celebre, then surely the frenzied killing of Eamon Collins of Newry is equally worthy of our attention. Both were fearless upholders of unpopular and, to a degree, partisan views. The attack on each was an attack on two fundamental freedoms: the right to freedom of expression and the right to life. In the same vein, is there any reason why Frank O`Reilly—the Catholic RUC man who gave his life in the line of duty at Drumcree, facing down Loyalist thugs—is not also worthy of entry into the canon of human rights defenders?

  There should be no second-class deaths, nor is there any obvious reason why some murder investigations should get far more investigative resources than others.

  Some of these concerns may seem distant from the work of the Committee. In fact, I feel these are vital contextual issues. Unless and until we develop a human and humanitarian rights culture in Northern Ireland, there is little possibility of ending the nightmare of paramilitary control and violence. Certainly a one-sided and selective concern with human rights issues does not serve us well.


    —  We need to break the silence, at all levels of society here. There has to be a fundamental debate about the gravity of the problems posed by paramilitary organisation in this society, in relation to children, individual adults, families and communities. The governments in Belfast, Dublin and London have a major responsibility here. So also do the media and community groups.

    —  It is unlikely that those who have been the object of paramilitary displeasure, including those driven from their homes and communities, will ever receive proper justice. But at least a type of Truth Commission, which heard their testimonies and which followed this up with therapeutic help, might relieve some of the pain, the anger and the sense of powerlessness.

    —  Ombudsperson for Children: an office led by an individual who takes a comprehensive view of the problems of children, their rights and any threats to their welfare.

    —  A campaign of support for the police, where most of the political parties, with the likely exception of the paramilitary political parties, accepted their responsibilities to support just and fair policing. There is an alternative to the new policing service which is in the process of being created. It is the masked, unaccountable vigilantes with guns and nail-studded cudgels.

7 February 2001

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