Victims of 'punishment' beatings only 14 years old
IRA knows Irish and British governments will ignore its punishment attacks
THEY gather at the corner of Castle Street and King Street, at the bottom of the Falls Road in Belfast almost every day. Two or three or four youths in wheelchairs, usually a couple on crutches and their friends, most of them bearing scars of vicious beatings and gunshot wounds. The daily gathering at the corner of the run-down street is one of the most pathetic sights in the city. They are victims of IRA punishment beatings and shootings. All were tried, convicted and sentenced by the backroom courts that sometimes take place in local Sinn Fein offices.
The youths, known locally as 'hoods', display their injuries with a grim defiance. They are like a dishevelled, handicapped brotherhood saying: "Look at us. Look at what the Provos did. We don't care."
The atrocities are not confined to the republican side. On September 2 in the Woodvale area, the UFF leader, Johnny Adair, had his son, Jonathan, shot in the legs on August 10 near his home in the lower Shankill Road.
There are now a sizeable number of young men in Belfast and Derry, in both loyalist and republican areas, who will never walk again or have lost the use of arms and hands as a result of 'punishment' beatings and shootings.
The number of punishment attacks actually rose significantly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in Easter 1998, despite the fact that it specifically mentioned that such violence should stop.
A report compiled by Queen's University, published in May, showed that the number of shootings where the victims were aged 13 to 19 went up from 12 in 1998 to 64 in 2001.
At the same time, punishment beatings increased from 29 to 55. The IRA carried out more beatings than loyalists. The report also showed that the age profile of punishment shooting and beating victims was becoming younger and led to the report being dubbed They shoot children, don't they. Several shooting victims last year were aged only 14.
There are some recent indications that the IRA has moved away from punishment shootings in favour of vicious beatings like that meted out to the 20-year-old south Armagh man last weekend. But people living in nationalist areas say the effect is the same.
The attack in south Armagh is certainly not in isolation. Another young man from Armagh, who incurred the wrath of the local Provisional IRA, also received a vicious beating just over two weeks ago.
Republican sources said yesterday the beatings continue to be the way the IRA - or sections of it - imposes its control in areas. Anyone who crosses the IRA as an organisation or who has a serious dispute with any IRA member is at risk of a beating.
Orthopedic specialists in the North's hospitals say it would be actually kinder to the victims if they were shot. Many of the beatings are administered with such ferocity, using weapons like iron bars and baseball bats, that bones are irreparably shattered. The injuries are catastrophic and can lead to amputations.
Doctors also have to contend with victims who have had multiple gunshot or beating injuries to legs or arms or both and they are unable to save or repair the most badly damaged limbs.
One youth recently reached the appalling record of having received 18 separate gunshot wounds because of a succession of punishments.
The attacks were supposed to stop after the Good Friday Agreement. There has been a noticeable slowdown in IRA beatings and shootings in some areas in recent months, sources in the Border area and west Belfast said yesterday. But it is believed that this slowdown may be due in part to the fact that punishment beatings have become a sensitive political issue for Sinn Fein.
Senior garda sources said yesterday that there has been a noticeable decline in punishment beatings and vigilant activity associated with the IRA since this year's general election. Gardai said this decline might have resulted from the embarrassing controversy for Sinn Fein over IRA vigilantism in Kerry which led to several Sinn Fein members, including its successful candidate Martin Ferris, being arrested.
Gardai in north and west Dublin other areas where IRA punishments were taking place in the Republic say the frequency of punishment attacks has declined since the election.
Some gardai believe there is a relation between IRA punishment violence and elections as attacks on persistent criminals or vandals are popular in some working-class areas. Sinn Fein vehemently denies there is any such correlation.
The recent reduction in scale of Provisional IRA punishment attacks in the North may be associated with the organisation's reaction to the proposed independent ceasefire auditor.
Sinn Fein last month called for the establishment of an independent auditor to deal with communal violence. But, in an about-turn, the party last week objected to a British government proposal which would mean that the independent ceasefire monitor would also be looking at punishment attacks.
The continuation of IRA punishment beatings in the North has led to derisory comment from Unionists about Sinn Fein Education Minister Martin McGuinness's plans to abolish corporal punishment in schools.
Sources in the Border area between Dundalk and Newry said no matter what happened in other areas it was unlikely that the south Armagh IRA will pay any attention to calls to halt beatings or shootings. Anyone who crosses the south Armagh IRA will be in serious danger.
Its most outspoken critic, the ex-IRA member and author, Eamon Collins was beaten to death by a local IRA gang near his home in Newry in January 1999.