The Kneecappers being helped by International 'Peace' Money?

Guest writer John Lindsay with a piece raising critical questions about the use of funding in Derry which in his view facilitates those behind punishment attacks. John Lindsay is author of the book No Dope Here - Anti Drug Vigilantism in Northern Ireland.


The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) recently awarded £186,000 to the “Time2choose” project based at Rosemount Resource Centre (RRC) in Derry. The money, it was said, would be used to help young people “at risk of paramilitary attack and/or recruitment into paramilitary groups.”
Friends and relatives of “punishment” attack victims are less than enthused about this funding award. They point to the close ties between management at RRC and members of the groups who have been threatening, and carrying out, “punishment” attacks. Funding RRC’s ‘mediation’, they argue, legitimises the threats and violence of unaccountable groups. The formalised role of RRC in passing on threats enables paramilitaries to issue more threats, and cause more hurt and distress to their victims, than they would otherwise be able to.

The job specifications of the posts funded with the IFI money make it clear that the onus is on victims of paramilitary threats and violence, rather than perpetrators, described as “threat making agencies”, to change their behaviour.

Rosemount Resource Centre’s ability to mediate with the groups who threaten violence against young people in Derry rests on the paramilitary groups’ choices. Paramilitaries (termed “threat-making agencies” by the IFI) have appointed Rosemount Resource Centre as their mediators. They will not talk to anyone else. Metaphorically, as well as literally, the paramilitaries are calling the shots.

The paramilitary group most likely to be threatening and recruiting young people in the Rosemount area is the “IRA” that emerged from the merger of the “Real” IRA and “Republican Action against Drugs” (RAAD).

Prior to the merger RAAD carried out a campaign of shooting, pipe-bombing and intimidation against the civilian population of the area. At this time RAAD claimed to be a single issue organisation, with a mission to eliminate what they saw as the scourge of drugs from Derry, claiming that they could achieve this through the use of violence against those who supplied them. RAAD announced in the Derry Journal that they were supporters of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. They told an interviewer from the Strabane Chronicle that they did not seek a united Ireland. RAAD in effect wanted to enforce British drug laws without the encumbrance of British legal safeguards such as Habeas Corpus.

In February 2009 a spokesperson for the “dissident” 32 County Sovereignty Movement was quoted in the Derry Journal asking whether the anti-drugs group might be a “pseudo-group who are in fact working for British intelligence”.

In their early days, RAAD had considerable support from a section of Sinn Féin in Derry. Some Sinn Féiners, in line with the party’s commitment to supporting accountable policing and constitutionalism, condemned RAAD’s violence. Others told me that they supported RAAD’s objectives and methods.

These methods included abducting and terrorising young people, dragging them into a van and beating them in an attempt to extort information, such as the names of friends who might have access to drugs, from them. Pipe bombs were left near the cars and houses of intended victims, usually in built up areas. Shootings were also carried out, often resulting in horrendous mutilations and disabilities.

RAAD’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and reckless. Pipe bombs found in children’s play areas in Strabane were linked to RAAD. In Creggan RAAD “volunteers”, said by eye-witnesses to be drunk, fired 85 shots over the heads of a group of women on Central Drive. The group were notoriously indiscreet. The identities of RAAD’s members were well known, their names had been published on a blog that received over a thousand hits over the space of a few hours. Still, the PSNI seemed unable or unwilling to take any action against them. To date there have been no prosecutions carried out in relation to attacks claimed by RAAD.

Between 2008 and 20010, RAAD’s victims were advised to contact a prominent Sinn Féin activist to find out what conditions the group wished to impose in exchange for sparing their lives. Conditions often included being ordered to make “confessions” that resembled those made at Stalinist show trials. A pattern was established. A shooting would occur, usually of a young man from a working class nationalist area of Derry. Friends of the victim, sometimes the victim themselves, would deny involvement in drugs, or whatever offence RAAD had accused them of, and this would be reported in the Derry Journal. The following week the victim would issue a statement in the Journal “confessing” to the sale of various types of drugs. Sometimes the shooting victims would add praise for RAAD’ to the “confessions” and even thank RAAD for showing them the error of their ways.

I accompanied one shooting victim to the Journal offices where a “mediator” had told him to report to a named journalist. He had been told by the mediator, a senior member of Sinn Féin, that unless he “confessed” to the sale of drugs he would be “executed”. Unsurprisingly he made the “confession” that was asked of him. Another victim of RAAD also told me that he had been instructed, by the same mediator, to make a “confession” to the same journalist.

Around the Autumn of 2010, something changed. A Sinn Féin activist, who had previously been supportive of RAAD, phoned me to say that he had changed his mind about them, he now believed that they were scoundrels, motivated by profit. The Sinn Féin mediator announced that RAAD would no longer work with him. He had in effect been sacked.
RAAD members began to be seen more and more openly in the company of anti-Good Friday Agreement Republicans linked to the “Real” IRA. Rosemount Resource Centre took on the job of “mediators” for the group.

In February 2012, RAAD murdered Andrew Allen at a house at Lisfannon in County Donegal. In March 2012, large numbers of people, including many Sinn Féin activists, took to the streets to demand that RAAD desist from their activities.

In July 2012 RAAD and the “Real” IRA announced that they were merging to form a new group styling themselves “the IRA”.


  1. John,

    welcome to TPQ with a vigorous piece which will no doubt prompt strong views in different quarters.

  2. John

    Thank you for your piece on RAAD and recent vigilantism in Derry - look forward to reading and discussing your book. While the assumption of quasi-policing in nationalist neighborhoods in the North by republican paramilitaries was certainly a political necessity, the beating and shooting and expulsion of teenagers for joyriding and other forms of vandalism has to be one of the most dire consequences of the Northern Ireland conflict. It ranks up there with proxy bombs and Enniskillen for public relations own goal. RAAD has taken the practice to new depths it seems. It's cruel and absurd. Everyone knows that attempts to cleanse a neighborhood of drugs is nothing more that protecting a right to control the economic flow of an area. The vigilantes work to protect someone's pocket, not the health and morality of a place. Derry and Belfast are no different from Southie, The Bronx, West Bodymore, Cabrini Green and the LBC in this way. A thin gauze of politics is laid over the drug money-go-round to hide - without success - the easily identifiable reality beneath.

    John, I'm so glad you're keeping these issues on the boiler. In the early nineties, I returned to West Belfast to find that my good friends had left for a "holiday" to Downpatrick. A cousin from down the road produced a key and said, "Make yourself at home, they should be back in a few days." That night, loosened up by a few tins, she told me the truth: the oldest son, a notorious joyrider, had been shot three times in the ankles, presumably for returning from England without permission. He was homesick. Despite the family's strong republican sympathies, the son was corralled after an attempted escape and frog marched into the entry by the men in balaclavas. The rest is all too familiar.

    The punishment shooting slowed the boy down but did not stop him from joyriding. He returned to his fix with a vengeance, moving from this gateway addiction to armed robbery and thereby compounding the series of wrongs that has permanently derailed the family. The recidivists (e.g. joyriders) take no responsibility for their actions, the paramilitaries rationalize ad nauseum, and the cycle continues with inexorable pain and regularity. The effects linger.

    In the end, beyond the roles of individuals in this vicious cycle, the dysfunction of the Northern Ireland statelet, at least in my opinion, is ultimately culpable. You can put lipstick on an RUC pig (PSNI by Estée Lauder) but it's still a pig, with Stormont and the judiciary like Orwell's Napoleon in his cozy farm house maintained for those who are more equal than others. The North is a wonderful place, often, and the people the best and most resilient in the world, but even on a good day, when the sun barely sets and the landscape glows, there's that stink that just won't go away.

  3. drugs and antisocial behavior, usually, are not the real problems. They are just symptoms of larger societal problems.

    Masked men bullying kids and kneecapping them? that's a fucking problem (though arguably also a symptom of greater problems)

    Great piece John.

    "You can put lipstick on an RUC pig (PSNI by Estée Lauder)..."
    you got laughing so hard i'm out of breath.
    excellent comment.

  4. Michael,

    like Aragman, I got some laugh out of that lipstick comment.

  5. I work voluntarily at 'Conflict Resolution Services' in Belfast, a similar project to the Rosemount initiative.
    Like Rosemount, we have managed to prevent scores of punishment shootings in the past year as well as help drug pushers extricate themselves from their trade.
    These centers provide a 'safe space' in which potential victims and their families can come and have it out with reps of the armed groups making accusations about them, it is a very worthy initiative.
    Much of the antagonism towards both our initiative and the Rosemount project eminates from Sinn Fein/CRJ. Last summer they went so far as accusing a member of staff in our office of being under investigation for child abuse, a fact refuted by both social services and his solicitor. The lads in Rosemount do a good job, i know some of them well and their integrity and opposition to punishment attacks is beyond question. This criticism is unfair.

  6. You on a wind up? how is a place where someone faces a representative from an unaccountable armed organisation to answer accusations a "safe place"? Sounds more like a space for facilitation of these groups power. The war on drugs has been a disaster, whether by state agencies or these vigilantes, from Baltimore to Belfast it's little more than a vechile for the empowerment of gangsters and the brutalisation of working class kids.

  7. did gerry bring liam to 1 of these centers .did he fuck

  8. I think the nepotism and favouritism which got people off scott-free from Republican justice and the personal grievances which saw innocents attacked or the guilty more harshly treated is a reason why we need a police service.

    The PSNI may not be perfect but they are more transparent and accountable and seemingly less corrupt than their predecessors. I normally, when making this argument, point out that Republicans will never have an Ombudsman but the re-hiring of retired RUC personnel, the toothless policing board and the shananigans of a significant part of the Ombudsman's office in recent years takes the wind out of my sails.

    Restorative Justice can be efficacious but only where it is transparent, accountable and serves the interests of all parties. It isn't something that only works well on paper, it has a proven track record in many other countries. If the proper checks and balances are made and it is organised benignly and with the best motives it can work here too.

    As John said in "No Dope Here" punishment attacks are anti-social in themselves. I think it is noted in the book, but my memory may fail me, that although barbaric they are preventative. Restorative Justice is preventative as well but wasn't designed to be used in conjunction with punishment attacks. If that is the charge and if it is correct the situation is merely a half-way house between barbarism and justice.

  9. Simon et al

    If there's evidence that punishment attacks and shootings are preventative, that they stop juvenile offenders in particular, I have not seen it. From witnessing the lives of those shot and anecdotally, I see no indication that this kind of punishment prevents recidivism. None at all. In fact, I've known plenty of perforated youths who have ramped up their hell-bent pursuit of thrills and chills and death defying acts. Their concern for life and limb actually seemed to decrease after the first serious encounter with a punishment squad.

    As for dealing with drug abuse (the demand side), barbaric beatings certainly do nothing to promote recovery, the kind of 12-step recovery either through NA or AA (or both) that has at least a fighting chance of addressing addiction and righting a wayward life. A terrorized youth, especially one living in a culture that celebrates alcohol with religious zeal, has almost no chance of achieving anything like freedom from chemical dependency if he is battered and left with wounds more lasting than contusions, broken bones, and bullet holes.

    Of course a normal democratic society needs a police force. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland is far from a normal democratic society. The PSNI can apparently collect the kind of information and evidence that was kept from the RUC, but when the white land rovers (granted, less menacing than the gray ghosts of old with their hum and Brit chums) come around, doors and mouths still tend to shut hard. Or at least this is what I've witnessed. Maybe something more open, less suspicious, is beginning to be the rule, just don't know for sure. What are your impressions folks?

    Faith in a police force comes with faith in a state, with its governance and legitimacy. Only farcical poles in the Belfast Telegraph and the most blinkered or oblivious would claim that Northern Ireland engenders this kind of faith.

  10. Happy Christmas Everyone !
    I hope I'm forgiven on a lovely Xmas morning for stating that some of these 'working class kids' have brutalised and terrorised their communities for years.
    I appreciate the fact that no ones child should be shot or have their arms or legs broken but neither should they be allowed to inflict what many of the same offenders have inflicted relentlessly on their community.

    This anti social behaviour which has resulted in innocent people being murdered in their own homes and entire communities being held to ransom cannot be put down entirely to social and economic deprevation.
    How then, does a person explain the kids in the same neighbourhoods whoever on with itl and do their best to change their situation.

    There are parts of W Belfast who are practically no go areas thanks to ' hooding' and thuggery.
    I have seen areas where people to this day cannot work without door security, even though the local IRA ( Provos) sit in bars yards away and the Fslls Sinn Fein centre is a few hundred yards up the street. The PSNI ignore them and they basically rule the place.

    Simon I take your point in relation to nepotism and yes it was very true.
    But I know for a fact that offices such as the ones Ciaran Cunningham speaks about are filling a void that is bring ignored by the police.
    Restorative Justice do not have the facility or the support to mediate in every situation, Conflict Resolution despite the mud that has been thrown at it, provides a more feasible solution for a wider audience.

  11. There will always be contention around these type of centres. Many people will view them as the author of this piece does. Yet, I know that people like Jim Auld who did this type of work years ago prevented numerous punishment attacks and that many people are now walking around who would otherwise have been seriously disabled. My own view is that this type of centre takes a risk in seming to letigimise the people carrying out the attacks but it does so in exchange for reducing the number of attacks carried out.

    My own experiences tells me that centres like this can act as a brake.

    If we come at this from a rights driven republicanism there is no justification for punishment attacks. These centres do not eradicate those attacks but reduce their number. Are they wrong to do that?

    I suppose that is the question that we will mull over.

    This is a cricial article but because of that it is the type of piece that makes us think. It is most welcome on TPQ.

  12. Fionnuala

    So would you say that the PSNI is doing little or nothing to combat the hoods in much of West Belfast, in the Lower Falls, Beechmount, Turf Lodge and Ballymurphy, for instance? Simply curious. Would you say that criminality (hood activity) is worse now than before the GFA? Are West Belfast nationalists still very reluctant to give the police information? If that's the case, does this refusal result from anger and intransigence, or instead from an old fear of reprisal and ostracism? Would it also be correct to think that Andersontown does not suffer from juvenile deliquency to the same degree as the areas listed above? Seems to me that Andytown is relatively prosperous and safe. True?

    A very Merry Christmas to you, Fionnuala, Nollaig shona a cara agus slaínte mhaith. County Kentuckaigh sends its good cheer. Enjoy the craic today!

    AM, as you write, anything that acts as a kind of bump in the road (the centres) certainly seems beneficial for all concerned. It's highly imperfect, but the intermediaries seem to be doing more good than harm. Have you read John Lindsay's book? Any quick impressions to pass along? Thanks mate.

  13. Thank you for all the comments, all of which contribute to a much needed debate.

    I should engage with the most critical response first. I’ve no doubt that most of those engaged in mediation with paramilitaries who threaten punishment attacks do so for the best of motives. I’m sure that there have been many occasions where attacks have been prevented because of the intervention of a mediator. One mediator told me that he believed that 84 paramilitary threats had been removed as a result of mediation that he had been involved with. Faced with an imminent threat to a loved one, families will take any measures necessary to prevent violence.

    However, when blackmailers are rewarded by having their demands met, then those demands are likely to become more frequent and audacious. How many of the 84 threats that the mediator cited would have been made, had the threat-makers not been indulged the first time they issued a threat?

    Paramilitaries do not follow transparent due process, and “punishment” attacks can often be a cover for personal grudges and vendettas. Some of the demands made by RAAD of their victims; to name others, to hand over money or property, to stop associating with certain friends or to make forced “confessions” would rightly be regarded as human rights abuses if carried out by agents of the state. Even where demands are, on the surface, a good idea, for people with substance abuse problems to take part in treatment programmes for example, they are undermined by the element of coercion involved. In the case of Rosemount Resource Centre, matters are further complicated because the centre is running courses that might be recommended to those at risk of paramilitary violence. Is there ever a temptation to encourage threats in order to fill out the numbers on some courses, or to invent threats in order to secure future funding?

    For many the families of victims, the IFI’s funding award re-opened their wounds. The money was presented as being ‘for victims’, but victims wishes played no part in how the funding was used. The funding award took no account of paramilitary victim’s rights to justice. The proposals contain no suggestions, for example, that the “threat-making agencies” should face prosecution, or any other sanction, for their threats or violence.

    Whilst some victims may have been happy to engage with Rosemount Resource Centre’s programmes, others chose not to, in some instances speaking out against what they saw as Rosemount’s complicity with their victimisers and receiving renewed threats as a result. These victims were in effect re-victimised by the IFI’s funding award.

    I’ll leave off now – I hope to address some of the other questions raised about policing, and any “preventative” effects of “punishment” attacks shortly.

  14. Michael,
    Nollaig Shona Duit.
    I would say the 'hooding' element has gotten worse since the agreement.
    The police are not actively dealing with anti social elements and neither are Restorative justice or Sinn Fein.
    Strange, how West Belfast an area that bore the brunt of the war now bears the brunt of the peace.
    An elderly women in our area told me several weeks ago that she rang the police in relation to a crowd of young people drinking outside her home.
    The police response was to ask, 'was there a no drinking sign where they were standing?'
    The is a mediocre and superficial response to the anti-social behaviour for all agencies and I know first hand that the IRA, as in the Sinn Fein/ IRA are accepting a formerly unacceptable level of lowlife behaviour in these communities.
    Intervention usually comes about when there is newspaper headline to be grabbed.

  15. Mr. John Lindsay

    Thank you so much for your detailed description: the straight dope from Derry. And on Christmas Day no less. You're the man! I'm looking forward to reading your book and future responses to other queries. All the very best from Louisville, Kentucky.

    Michael Shaw Mahoney (QUB, 1997)

  16. Michael,

    if you do read the book, throw us a review.

  17. Will do, Mackers, now to track down a copy.

  18. Ciaran Cunningham,

    I am just inquisitive as to what qualifications one needs to sit on the bench of de facto community judiciary?

    How can you claim these “centre’s” provide a safe sterile unbiased haven?

    Explain why mothers and fathers should suffer the humiliation of having to appear before an unelected community jury and plead on behalf of their child?
    I doubt it is based in respect for your adjudication but would venture to guess it is out of fear.

    “These centers provide a 'safe space' in which potential victims and their families can come and have it out with reps of the armed groups making accusations about them; it is a very worthy initiative.”

    Would the above not reinforce my “fear” guess? How eloquent and admirable and generous that “potential victims” can receive a fair hearing.
    You neglect to inform us what happens to those who don’t adhere to your law and order?

    I do like the fancy name it gives it that sense of credibility though we used to call that lark kangaroo courts.

    You don’t exactly paint the truth and again what qualifications does one require to hold an important position of community judge?

  19. Some fascinating comments and discussion here. It's reassuring to see that these issues are being debated within republican communities. It's an area that has largely been ignored by academics and politicians, except when it is being used for political point scoring.

    I was interested and saddened to hear the story of your friends in West Belfast, Michael. Such stories exist within families and communities throughout the North, yet they remain largely hidden because of the stigma attached to 'punishment' attacks. They need to be talked about so that the hurts may be healed and the causes addressed.

    I noted down some further thoughts, which I'll cut and paste on here -

    Informal justice systems developed in republican areas in response to the absence of effective or acceptable policing. These systems often had much to commend them; a close connection with and knowledge of the communities being policed and swift responses to alleged crimes (due to the absence of time consuming legal safeguards and procedures). Often they were able to produce results, such as the return of stolen property, that would be the envy of other ‘community’ police forces.

    Unfortunately these systems were also dependent on the threat of barbaric sanctions, such beatings and shootings. Ironically these sanctions were used most frequently when other forms of violence (directed against the state etc) were at there least frequent. Throughout the troubles, ‘punishment’ attacks, both loyalist and republican, increased in number and intensity, when the groups carrying them out were supposedly on ceasefire. This would suggest that many ‘punishment’ attacks were as much about keeping control of communities (and keeping ‘volunteers’ occupied) as they were about concern about anti-social behaviour and crime.

    On the question of whether ‘punishment’ attacks had a preventative, or deterrent effect, this is probably best answered in Heather Hamill’s PhD Thesis, now a book: “The Hoods; Crime and Punishment in Belfast”, one of the few academic studies of ‘punishment’ attacks. Hamill found no deterrent effect on the young car thieves she studied, who accepted kneecappings, with resignation as a right of passage and continued to reoffend. She acknowledged however that punishment attacks may have acted as a deterrent to young people who were not yet involved in criminality.

    In relation to illegal (under British law) drugs, I’m of the opinion that attempts at prohibition, either by state or non-state agencies, increase rather than reduce damage to health and society. Drug use is generally driven by demand rather than supply, rendering sanctions against ‘dealers’ largely meaningless. During the height of RAAD’s campaign in Derry, I was told by a counsellor working with people with substance abuse problems that there was a shortage of cannabis in Derry. As cannabis is bulky, strong smelling and thus easily detected, dealers chose not to risk selling it whilst RAAD were on their shooting spree. This did not result in abstinence by problematic drug users. Instead the counsellor reported that they turned to using all sorts of household medicines and chemicals in increasingly desperate bids to get high.