chapter  5
18 Pages

Republican Hegemony or Community Ownership? Community Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland

One of the visible symptoms of the limitations of state policing in Ireland since at least the nineteenth century has been the periodic existence of alternative systems of vigilantism or ‘self policing’ (Johnston, 1996; Bell, 1996; Kotsonouris, 1995). Such alternate justice systems have developed in many jurisdictions which have undergone political, social or ethnic conflict (Abel, 1982; McDonald and Zatz, 1992; Burman and Scharf, 1990). In Northern Ireland official figures suggest that since 1973, approximately 2,300 people have been the victims of paramilitary punishment shootings (usually in the knees, thighs, elbows, ankles or a combination) and since 1983, approximately 1,700 people have been the victim of paramilitary punishment beatings (involving attacks with baseball bats, hurling sticks studded with nails, iron bars and other heavy implements (RUC website, 2000). While there is a heated debate as to the reliability of such statistics and the ways in which they have been used in the political arena,2 there is little dispute concerning the realities of the extreme violence visited upon the victims of punishment attacks with a number having died of injuries or been permanently disabled. While organized paramilitary violence has reduced dramatically in Northern Ireland, with all of the main paramilitary groupings currently observing ‘military cessations’, punishment attacks and banishments have continued, albeit waxing and waning in the light of political developments and events on the ground (Silke and Taylor, 2000; Knox and Monaghan, 2001).