Ireland’s Church leaders have called for an end to all paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland, warning the attacks continue to have a major impact on the wellbeing of children and young people and threaten to “trap them in never-ending cycles of violence.”
“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,” they said.
The appeal, to mark the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day, was issued by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and his Church of Ireland counterpart, Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rt Revd Dr Noble McNeely, the President of the Methodist Church, Revd Dr Laurence Grahah and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Bishop John McDowell.
Paramilitary style attacks are usually carried out by Loyalist or Republican groups on members of their own community, and are generally in the form of shootings or assaults. In the past year, there were 94 so-called “punishment attacks”, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), an increase of more than twenty incidents on the previous year. The PSNI added that the figure has fallen considerably over the past decade. However, campaigners have expressed concern over what they see as an upturn in the frequency of attacks, which are used as a “punishment” for activities like drug use and anti-social behaviour.
In the document, the Church leaders said that “at the heart of the vision for the Peace Process was the hopes that children and young people might be protected from the violence that blighted the lives of previous generations.” But, they added, the reality is that too many children 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.”
Calling on all members of society to make communities safe, the religious leaders warned that much of the work that has been done is this area is under at risk “as a result of funding cuts and financial uncertainty.”
“In this context, it is more important than ever that we week 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.”
PICTURE: Police pictured in Belfast, Northern Ireland ©PA