Church leaders condemn paramilitary child abuse

Archbishops Eamon Martin.
Archbishops Eamon Martin.

Christian leaders, including the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, have spoken out against paramilitaries for seeking to "trap young people in never-ending cycles of violence.”

They made the call as the PSNI marked United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day by appealing on communities to speak out against paramilitaries.

Police revealed six per cent of paramilitary attacks last year were perpetrated against children.

In a joint statement, Archbishop Martin, Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Rev. Dr. Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Bishop John McDowell, President of the Irish Council of Churches and Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said: "At the heart of the vision for the Peace Process was the hope that children and young people might be protected from the violence that blighted the lives of previous generations.

"Sadly, too many in our society continue to be exposed to this violence at an early age, either as victims of direct attacks, or as members of families subjected to attacks or intimidation.

"Making our communities safe and welcoming places is the responsibility of all members of society.

"We need to ask ourselves whether the legacy of violent conflict here has caused us to feel powerless to challenge the culture that supports the continuation of this type of violence.

"We have many examples of courageous leadership from those working to give our young people better opportunities and help those at risk make better choices - in our churches, in youth clubs, in education, sports clubs and in the wider community and voluntary sector.

"Much of this valuable work is now under pressure as a result of funding cuts and financial uncertainty.

"In this context, it is more important than ever that we seek to lend our support to initiatives that offer young people the chance to achieve their full potential and challenge those who seek to trap them in never-ending cycles of violence.”

In July the 'Journal' reported how 89 people were victimised in paramilitary attacks between 2009 and 2016.

The latest police statistics show there were 28 victims of paramilitary style shootings in 2016/17 across the North, double the number recorded in the previous year.

There was also an increase in the number of casualties of paramilitary style assaults, from 58 last year to 66 over the same period this year.

Loyalist paramilitary crime gangs were deemed responsible for 56 of these casualties with the remaining 10 attributed to Republican gangs.

Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said: “Around six per cent of the paramilitary style attacks carried out last year were against people under 18 years. An attack against a person of any age, but particularly a child, is completely unacceptable in any society.

“This is child abuse and should not be tolerated by any rational person.

“Worryingly, there is some evidence of tolerance and even support in some of our communities for paramilitary style attacks as a form of summary justice - this is anything but just.

“The people behind these attacks should be seen for what they are, hypocritical thugs trying to exert coercive control over communities by creating a climate of fear.

"My appeal to those communities is not to simply shrug and ignore these attacks but give information to the police so that we can arrest and charge the people involved in carrying out these appalling shootings and physical assaults.

"Our children deserve to be protected not punished.

"We have a choice - this doesn’t need to be the future for our children. Work with us to make your community safer providing a better and brighter future for our children, by engaging with the only legitimate form of law within their community.

“In recent weeks police have made a number of arrests in connection with various paramilitary style attacks, including an arrest for the murder of Brian McIlhagga which took place in 2015.

“We will continue to work with our partner agencies through the likes of the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce to address communities’ concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour, and at the same time rid them of paramilitary coercion including these barbaric attacks.”