Category: Archive

A View North A brutal reminder of whose in charge

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

On Jan. 16, the Irish Times carried a photograph that has a direct bearing on the current debate on policing Northern Ireland. It showed 34-year-old Andrew Peden, his legs reduced to mere stumps, sitting on a cushion on the floor watching his son Drew doing his homework.

Peden is a victim of Northern Ireland policing, paramilitary style.

In May of last year he fell foul of the Ulster Volunteer Force. "He was abducted and taken to a block of flats," according to the Times, "where he was blindfolded and had his hands tied. He was questioned about a row over a woman the previous night between some of his friends and a group of UVF men."

Peden told the newspaper that he was badly beaten. "I tried to jump through the window, but it was double-glazed and didn’t break," he said. "After 12 hours he was taken outside. He was unconscious by then. His assailants shot him in the legs." According to Peden’s wife, Linda, "You could have put your fist through the holes." They left his legs so badly damaged that first one then the other had to be amputated from the mid-thigh, leaving him with half a body. He was in the hospital for seven months. His wife is furious that the political representatives of those who carried out the attack are "sitting in the Stormont assembly on big salaries while our world has been destroyed." Mrs. Peden has had to give up her job in the bakery to look after her husband. "I will never work again," Mr. Peden said. "But it’s not being able to do things with my kids that really breaks my heart. I can’t bring them to the park or take them fishing or swimming and I loved doing those things."

Peden’s terrible fate is, unfortunately, not unique. Since the paramilitary groups called their cease-fires, so-called punishment beatings have increased. According to the Irish Times’ statistics, on the first year after the IRA called a cease-fire in 1994, the number of such attacks it inflicted went up four-fold from 32 to 141 and the number carried out by loyalists doubled from 38 to 76.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

They can prove fatal. Last year, Andrew Kearney, a 33-year-old Catholic, died after the IRA shot him in the legs. Like the Peden case, the attack seems to have been motivated by a personal grudge and had nothing to do with the paramilitaries’ campaign against what they describe without any sense of irony as anti-social elements in their respective communities.

According to Kearney’s 65-year-old mother, her son was involved in a fight on July 5 last year with a high-ranking member of the Belfast IRA. Kearney lived up to his reputation as a street-fighter and gave his opponent a beating. Two weeks later, eight men burst into Kearney’s flat where he lived with his partner, Lisa, on the New Lodge Road in North Belfast and dragged him into the stairwell.

"There were three shots," Mrs. Kearney told the Irish Times. "When the gang left, Lisa rushed out. Andrew was sitting in a pool of blood in the lift. He had been shot in the legs. A bullet had struck an artery. He was unconscious." His attackers had ripped out the telephone in the couple’s apartment on the 16th floor and jammed the elevator. Lisa was forced to run down 16 flights of steps holding their youngest child to ring for an ambulance. By the time help arrived, Andrew Kearney was dead. Mrs. Kearney is angry that no one has been made accountable for the murder. She was not placated by a visit from Gerry Adams.

"Gerry Adams is a politician," she told the Times. "He didn’t really say much, but he was charming."

Her son left four children behind.

"If republicans get a clip around the ear from the RUC or British army, they’re claiming money," Mrs. Kearney said. "Gerry Adams is after £10,000 [approximately $15,000] for being held up for four hours by the RUC on the Ormeau Road. If he thinks he deserves £10,000 pounds for that, then what is my son’s life worth?"

What angers people is that the authorities more often than not turn a blind eye to this kind of violence. Though it is in clear violation of the six Mitchell Principles of nonviolence, to which all the parties in the Assembly have committed themselves, neither the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party nor Sinn Fein were ever challenged about these crimes.

Mrs. Kearney, who was a Sinn Fein supporter, said: "I was always very critical of the RUC. But they would have treated Andrew far more humanely than the IRA did."

The IRA said it was an accident. But the surgeon who looked at Kearney told her that the gun used was a .45 revolver, a very heavy caliber weapon. It was used to blow off the calf of his leg, and it was meant to kill, she was told.

Anyone who knows anything about Northern Ireland’s troubled history knows that the IRA, the UVF and the UDA have been responsible for many similar crimes against their communities over the years. When I was living in Belfast in 1992, a few blocks from our home a 30-year-old woman was beaten to death by a gang of men with baseball bats. Her crime? She had men in her flat and was making noise. The local UDA decided to take care of the disturbance. I suppose it was what Mayor Rudy Giuliani calls a quality-of-life crime, though even our law-and-order-obsessed mayor might have hesitated to impose the death penalty.

The truth is that the paramilitary organizations that run the poor neighborhoods of Belfast inflict "punishment" not only because they are interested in stopping crime, however they define it, but because they want to remind people that in spite of the peace process and the ending of the "war," they are still in control.

In the meantime, perhaps the paramilitaries can follow the example set by the Patten Commission on policing, which is eliciting views on how Northern Ireland’s police service might be improved. Then we could have a Commission on the Paramilitaries which would tour Northern Ireland requesting views on how the UDA, IRA and UVF could improve their law-and-order strategies.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese