Justice for gun thugs ‘still not happening’ as wave of shootings hits city

Google map file showing the rough locations of shootings of people in Belfast, as reported by police, between December 30, 2017 and January 30, 2018
Google map file showing the rough locations of shootings of people in Belfast, as reported by police, between December 30, 2017 and January 30, 2018

A former UUP leader has said meting out justice to people behind gun attacks is still “just not happening”, after a fresh slew of shootings in Belfast.

Mike Nesbitt was speaking after a man, aged 39, was shot in both ankles in Glenalina Gardens in west Belfast shortly after 9.30pm on Tuesday.

The scene of a shooting in Whiterock, west Belfast on January 19

The scene of a shooting in Whiterock, west Belfast on January 19

The shooting was condemned by Sinn Fein, along with other parties.

However, the attack is the fifth time in a month that a man has been shot in a republican/nationalist-dominated belt in the city, running from Whiterock in the south-west to the New Lodge in the north.

In addition to the latest attack, on Sunday night a man aged 26 was shot in the legs in Upper Meadow Street in the New Lodge.

That same night another man, 41, was shot in the legs and arm in Divismore Park, west Belfast.

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

Both men’s injuries were described by police as “potentially life-changing”.

On the evening of Friday, January 19, a man aged in his 20s was shot a number of times in both legs in Whiterock Drive, west Belfast.

And on Saturday, December 30, a 28-year-old man in Cavendish Street, west Belfast, was hit on the head, shot in both knees, and shot in an ankle (a female was also assaulted during the incident).

Over the same month-long period, police reported only two other incidents of shots being fired in Northern Ireland – a gun attack on a empty car in west Londonderry on January 3, and shots fired at a dwelling in Killyleagh on January 14.

Police figures show that from April 2016 to April 2017, republicans were blamed for 25 out of 28 of the non-fatal punishment shootings in Northern Ireland in that period.

SDLP west Belfast councillor Tim Attwood said that even during the heat of the Troubles “punishment attacks didn’t deter anti-social behaviour; if it didn’t work then, it won’t work now”.

Meanwhile Mr Nesbitt, MLA for Strangford who dramatically walked out of the Executive as leader of the UUP in August 2015 following a police assessment that PIRA members were behind a fatal shooting in Belfast, said the police “certainly should be looking to see if there’s any PIRA involvement” in the latest wave of shootings.

Back in 2015, an intelligence assessment had found that IRA members still believe the paramilitary group’s high command “oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”.

If any PIRA involvement were found in this wave of shootings, Mr Nesbitt said this assessment should be revisited, and “we should examine whether there need to be any political consequences”.

Mr Nesbitt said that “there have to be tangible sanctions; the people who are carrying out these brutal and really horrible attacks need to know that they’re going to get caught, and when they get caught they’re going to be punished – and it’s just not happening, and it hasn’t happened over the last 20 years”.

He added: “We’ve been so keen to be inclusive that we’ve yet to have the political moral courage to say certain people by this stage are excluding themselves from the political process and therefore there must be consequences for them.”