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'Crucifixion' involved being shot in hands, knees and feet

(Irish News)

They had names such as the 'padre pio', the 'crucifixion', the 'mixed grill' and the 'six pack'. At times they involved victims standing in orderly queues to await their 'punishment'.

Some even argued that punishment attacks were a result of communities demanding paramilitary action.

But in reality paramilitary attacks involved children being forced down manholes, teenage girls being 'tarred and feathered', a man being nailed to a railing and in one instance an amputee being shot in his remaining leg.

Since 1973 there have been at least 2,982 so-called punishment shootings and 2088 so-called punishment beatings.

However the true figures for punishment beatings could be more than double the official figures as police did not begin to record paramilitary assaults until 1988.

In the 1970s tarring and feathering was commonplace with people judged to be involved in anti-social behaviour being tied to lamp-posts, having paint poured over them and then being covered in feathers.

In some instances they were forced to hold placards outlining their alleged crimes.

In traditional Belfast parlance, each style of attack was given its own nickname.

A 'Padre Pio' involved being shot in both hands, a 'mixed grill' or 'six pack' involved being shot in the ankles, knees and elbows, while a 'crucifixion' involved being shot in the hands, knees and feet.

In 1996 it was reported that a group of teenagers had been forced to stand in a queue in a north Belfast park while waiting to be shot in the legs.

When police began to keep records in 1973 there were 74 punishment shootings, 53 republican and 21 loyalist.

Within a year that figure had doubled to 127 and by 1975 had hit an all-time high with 189 people being shot by paramilitaries.

Throughout the Troubles the number of punishment shootings could change dramatically from just 26 in 1984 to 124 in 1987.

In 1994 there were 122 punishment shootings yet within a year that figure had dropped to just three.

Loyalist and republican ceasefires are regarded as accounting for the dramatic drop but the number of attacks climbed again.

One teachers' union later reported that decreasing punishment attacks had led to an increase of violent incidents in schools.

In 1998 Shankill Road man Andrew Peden had to have both legs amputated after being shot by a UVF 'punishment' squad.

Four years later Mr Peden's 16-year-old son Drew was also abducted by a loyalist gang and shot in the legs.

Between 2000 and 2002 nearly 500 people were shot by paramilitaries.

Despite the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement the 2001 figure of 186 punishment shootings was just three short of the worst year of the entire Troubles.

However, the statistics fail to show the human tragedy suffered as a result of the attacks.

In July 1998 Andrew Kearney died after being shot by the IRA in both legs in a flat in the New Lodge area of north Belfast. His attackers cut the phone line and jammed the lift so that he could not reach help.

In March 1999 the UVF was blamed for a punishment attack on 13-year-old Ian Price during which a four-man gang used baseball bats to break his arms and fingers.

In April 2003 Ballymurphy teenager Kevin Whelan was abducted and shot in his left leg for alleged drug dealing.

The attack was seen as particularly barbaric as the teenager had recently lost his other leg in a car accident.

In April 2003 the INLA was blamed for "tarring and feathering" two teenage boys in Ardoyne.

It was the first of a series of INLA punishment beatings in the area which led to a number of teenagers taking their own lives.

In February 2004 Ardoyne teen-ager Anthony O'Neill took his own life after being abducted by the INLA, stripped, beaten and then forced down into a manhole.

In March 2002 the UDA was blamed for shooting a 14-year-old schoolboy in north Belfast.

In November of that year a UDA gang was blamed for one of the worst punishment attacks of the Troubles when Catholic man Harry McCartan was beaten and had nails driven through his hands in to a fence on the Seymour estate on the outskirts of west Belfast.

The gang are said to have deliberately bent the nails through McCartan's hands to make it harder for emergency staff to free him from the fence.

McCartan, who had previous convictions for car crime, appeared in court earlier this year on further charges of car theft.

In 2004 the UDA forced two teenagers to stand on a main road in north Belfast with carrying placards admitting their alleged involvement in anti-social behaviour.

The organisation claimed that the practice was an alternative to a punishment attack, however, the shootings continued.

Just last year the Continuity IRA was blamed for a punishment shooting on west Belfast teenager Conor Weldon which led to his leg being amputated.

July 22, 2007

This article appeared first in the July 19, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News