Researching findings: Experiencing Paramilitarism

Research completed by academics in the Centre for Children’s Rights and University of Nottingham reveals the nature and extent of paramilitary style intimidation, attack and exploitation of children and young people in some Northern Ireland communities.

The researching findings are available at

Understanding the Impact of Paramilitaries on Young People in Northern Ireland 

Authors: Dr Siobhan McAlister, Dr Clare Dwyer and Dr Nicola Carr

Young people living in communities with a known paramilitary presence feel that they are often the main targets of abuse. Many of those interviewed had experience of direct or indirect victimisation, including witnessing or personally experiencing; shootings, fines, exiling, beatings, bans and curfews intimidation.

A significant number had been victims of severe, and sometimes multiple instances of, physical and psychological abuses as children, the impacts of which had continued into young adulthood. Paramilitary presence, intimidation and attack also impacted on young people’s sense of safety and security, their freedom of movement and leisure activities as well as their mental health and well-being. The research found that:

“Some of the most marginalised young people – those with drug and alcohol problems, precarious housing, difficult family circumstances - experienced further exclusion and marginalisation as a result of coming to the attention of paramilitaries”

Whilst the research did not find significant levels of recruitment, young people identified a range of factors which would make those their age vulnerable to exploitation and recruitment. These included family and community links, the need for protection, a search for belonging and identity.

Young people often had mixed feelings about paramilitaries, understanding their behaviours to be excessive and hypocritical on the one hand, yet viewing them as ‘protectors’ of the community on the other. Support was often grounded in the belief that ‘community justice’ is more swift and effective than formal criminal justice and due process.

The authors conclude that the research raises concerns about the extent to which the State is meeting its obligation as signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” This includes the right to protection from violence and abuse, and the right to freedom from torture, cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment.


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