Fears over rise in pun­ish­ment at­tack­sas­me­di­a­tion­body­folds

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY DONNA DEENEY

A SCHEME that me­di­ates be­tween dis­si­dent repub­li­cans in Lon­don­derry and peo­ple un­der threat has folded due to lack of fund­ing.

The Time 2 Choose project is said to have saved hun­dreds of peo­ple from shoot­ings, beat­ings and from be­ing forced out of the city by paramil­i­taries.

Tommy McCourt (be­low right) is man­ager of the Rose­mount Re­source Cen­tre, where the project is based and which has lost seven project sup­port work­ers.

He said that while the cen­tre was still in­un­dated with calls from peo­ple un­der threat, there was no one left to talk to dis­si­dent repub­li­cans.

He added he be­lieved the clo­sure could ex­ac­er­bate a spike in vi­o­lent at­tacks in the city.

There have been 15 in­ci­dents in which guns have been used on peo­ple and prop­erty in the Derry and Stra­bane coun­cil area this year.

In the most re­cent at­tack, on Sun­day evening, a 44-yearold man was shot in the leg by masked gun­men who dragged him into a tun­nel along the Madam’s Bank Road.

Dis­si­dent repub­li­cans pre­vi­ously is­sued a state­ment say­ing the Rose­mount Re­source Cen­tre was the only cen­tre they would en­gage with.

Speak­ing to the Belfast Tele­graph, Mr McCourt voiced his alarm at the in­crease in gun at­tacks this year.

“There is no deny­ing the in­crease in ac­tiv­ity of the paramil­i­taries, which we are all alarmed about,” he said.

“For the last num­ber of years, the Time 2 Choose project has been very suc­cess­ful in steer­ing young peo­ple — some very young teenagers — away from the kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties that brought them to the at­ten­tion of the paramil­i­taries.

“Sadly, the fund­ing that al­lowed the project to carry out that work isn’t there any longer and the seven peo­ple who shared the load of me­di­at­ing with the paramil­i­taries and pro­vid­ing train­ing and coun­selling around op­tions to the peo­ple un­der threat are not here in the cen­tre.”

Al­though the staff are no longer there, “the work load hasn’t gone away”, stressed Mr McCourt.

“We are still in­un­dated with calls from peo­ple who are fear­ful for ei­ther them­selves or for a mem­ber of their fam­ily and they want our help,” he added.

“The paramil­i­taries made it clear through var­i­ous state­ments to the me­dia that the Rose­mount Re­source Cen­tre and the Time 2 Choose project were the only projects they would en­gage with. That is still the case, but our abil­ity to re­spond has greatly de­creased.

“The prob­lem now is we are lim­ited in our abil­ity to re­spond and I think in turn the paramil­i­taries have been less in­clined to come for­ward to us be­cause we are not at the same level of be­ing able to re­spond. They have recog­nised that.

“The project is run­ning on a much more lim­ited ca­pac­ity — it is run on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

“We lit­er­ally have one vol­un­teer who is run­ning around from pil­lar to post try­ing to talk to paramil­i­taries, try­ing to talk to fam­i­lies and to the per­son tar­geted them­selves. We are get­ting on av­er­age four com­plaints a day and we are just not able to han­dle all of them.”

The Time 2 Choose project was set up in 2013 with £700,000 fund­ing from the In­ter­na­tional Fund for Ire­land’s Peace Im­pact Pro­gramme.

Since its for­ma­tion, it has dealt with more than 1,000 cases in which peo­ple from Derry have been threat­ened by para­mil­i­tary groups.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of the vic­tims are chil­dren, some as young as 13 and 14.

Mr McCourt said if the es­ca­la­tion in vi­o­lence by paramil­i­taries was to be ad­dressed, the statu­tory providers needed to get imag- ina­tive with pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. He con­tin­ued: “If so­ci­ety is go­ing to at­tack para­mil­i­tary vi­o­lence, there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent an­gles to that.

“There are peo­ple who will ar­gue the way to tackle it is through law and order, polic­ing, com­mu­nity sup­port for the po­lice and what­ever, and that is fine and great.

“There is also a case for say­ing that some kind of in­ter­ven­tion model has to be in place which can be ac­cessed by the in­di­vid­u­als who are un­der threat and the in­di­vid­u­als who are im­pos­ing the threat.

“We have records to show that we dealt with well over 1,000 cases. The re­al­ity is there haven’t been well over 1,000 shoot­ings, so the Time 2 Choose project worked.

“There are a num­ber of things hap­pen­ing that are not com­ing to us which in the past we were get­ting con­stantly and which we, in a lot of the cases, pre­vented from es­ca­lat­ing into the kind of ac­tions we are see­ing now.

“The Time 2 Choose project was un­doubt­edly an in­no­va­tive and com­mu­nity-based ap­proach to the pro­vi­sion of a so­cial ser­vice.”

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