by Rachel McMahon
In the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, both Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries agreed to decommission their weapons, yet their successors have continued to wage paramilitary-style attacks, ensuring that it remains an ever-present, not to mention, severe threat in Northern Ireland. 2017 has witnessed a series of high-profile paramilitary-style attacks. As of mid-May 2017, there have been twenty-five Republican paramilitary-style shootings in 2016/17 and three Loyalist shootings. But on the other hand, there have been fifty-six Loyalist paramilitary-style assaults during the same time frame, compared to ten Republican. In addition, there has been twenty-nine reported bombing incidents and one hundred and thirty-seven people arrested under the Terrorism Act, of which nineteen were charged.
On the Loyalist side thereâs the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando and the Ulster Defence Association, and on the Republican side thereâs the Continuity Irish Republican Army, the Irish National Liberation Army, the New Irish Republican Army, and Oglaigh na hEireann, who have all split from the Provisional IRA. The PSNI have also lately revealed that they have uncovered another group called Arm na Poblachta, which is translated literally to âRepublican Armyâ. Whilst both sides still have active forces, it is clear that the main threat is coming from the dissident Republican side.
On a local level, dissident Republicans are targeting criminals such as known drug dealers, in punishment attacks, the majority of which are shootings to the legs- known as kneecapping- or to the elbows or ankles. Attacks such as these are intended to bolster support through reducing criminality whilst discrediting the PSNI. A number of other incidents can be attributed to inter-force disputes. On a nation-wide level, there are those that reject the peace agreements and therefore target police, security and prison officers as a result. Most of the bombing incidents can be attributed to this kind of targeting, usually involving improvised explosive devices strategically placed to kill those who uphold the agreement. The PSNI in fact has claimed that around 16 officers move house or install security systems on their existing houses per year due to threats made against them.
A new type of Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device which detonates when driven over has been created by such dissidents, which suggests that whilst they do not currently have the capabilities to wage another large-scale terror campaign, they are attempting to advance and adapt their current capabilities. This weapon has already been used outside of a police officers home in Londonderry back in February, but luckily exploded without any injuries. When analysing the situation geographically, it is clear to see that the majority of this activity has been within the capital of Belfast, yet public support for those who would threaten the peace remains low. And just like before, the violence is contained within certain areas of the city, as well as in other prominent cities such as Londonderry. The fact that the style of these attacks are reminiscent of those during the early days of âThe Troublesâ, could indicate that they are once again growing in scale. Although widespread terror is unlikely to occur again in the immediate future, paramilitaries are becoming more emboldened in their attacks.
The September 2016 Independent Reporting Commission had been cited as the beginning of the end of paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland, but every indicator appears to show quite the opposite.
Some of the significant attacks of 2017:
January: On the 5th of this month, shots were fired at a property in Londonderry, with no injuries. On the 6th a man was shot in both legs in west Belfast, followed by another two people who were shot in the legs on the 12th, and another man was shot in the legs on the 17th. On the 14th, PSNI found a bomb in the Poleglass area of Belfast, which was intended for police officers. And on the 22nd a police officer sustained two gun shot wounds to his arm, when he was shot at, at a garage in north Belfast.
February: On the 9th a man was injured when shots were fired at his home in Poyntzpass. On the 15th, a teenager was shot in the legs in west Belfast, followed by a 16 year old boy who was shot in the leg a day later in the same vicinity. On the 21st, five pipe bombs and an unspecified amount of ammunition was discovered in west Belfast and has been linked to the INLA. During a bomb removal operation outside a police officers home on the 22nd in Londonderry, the Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device exploded.
March: On the 4th shots were fired at a property in Dungiven. On the 11th a doorman was attacked in an ongoing paramilitary feud in Carrickfergus. On the 13th former UDA member Geordie Gilmore was gunned down near his estate in Carrickfergus. On the 17th two pipe bombs exploded at two locations in Co. Antrim. On the 21st following the funeral of Martin McGuinness, a Republican bomb exploded in Strabane. It was targeted at police officers but resulted in no injuries. On the 23rd two boys were injured after a petrol bomb was thrown at their house in Craigavon. On the 27th a man was shot in the leg in Creggan, followed by another man shot in both legs in Derry on the 29th. He was a Republican who had just come out of prison for the 2010 bombing to Derryâs Strand Road police station.
April: On the 5th a man sustained injuries to his elbows, knees and ankles when he was shot at in Newtownards. On the 14th a shot was fired at a man in Dungannon, but he was not injured. On the 23rd a bomb was discovered outside of a primary school in Ardoyne, intended to kill police officers.
May: On the 3rd, a man was bundled into the back of a van and shot in both ankles in Belfast. On the 7th a man was injured after shots were fired at a property in Lurgan. On the 28th, Loyalist Colin Horner, was shot multiple times in a carpark in Bangor in front of his three year old child. The gunning down of Horner was part of an internal feud within the UDA. On the same day, shots were fired at a property in Derry. PSNI uncovered a viable pipe bomb on the 31st in Dungiven, Londonderry.
June: On the 10th a man was injured in a petrol bomb attack in Belfast, and on the same day a teenage boy sustained multiple injuries after paramilitaries attacked him using metal bars in Derry. On the 24th guns and ammunition were seized from a property in west Belfast. On the 25th a man was shot in both legs in Belfast. The following day, masked men fired shots into the air at the funeral of Republican Barry McMullan in west Belfast.
July: A petrol bomb was thrown at a baptist church in Co. Tyrone on the 12th. On the 13th, a teenage boy was shot three times in the legs in west Belfast. Viable pipe bombs were found in west Belfast and Strabane on the 16th. On the 21st a man was shot in both legs in north Belfast. On the 30th a man was assaulted by four masked men in a paramilitary-style attack in Belfast.
August: On the 6th a petrol bomb was thrown at a property in Strabane. On the 8th, a man was shot four times in his legs and abdomen in a paramilitary-style attack in Londonderry. On the 14th two men were assaulted paramilitary-style in Portadown. On the 19th shots were fired at a property in Derry. On the 21st, a brick, a petrol bomb and a pipe bomb were thrown through a house window in Waterside, Londonderry, but did not explode.