Derry’s young people are being groomed to accept violence
There’s a cynicism at work in gearing Derry, and the rest of NI, up for a sectarian fight this summer. Poor Catholics and poor Protestants have always been convinced that it's in their best interests to keep segregated; to fear each other and fight each other.
But it’s the guys with the guns, driving events behind the scenes, who are more likely to use them on members of their own community - even kneecapping children.
There were 101 savage paramilitary 'punishment' beatings and shootings in NI last year. These are mostly directed at young Catholics, and young Protestants, by people from their own side.
It’s not unusual for teenagers to be drugged up and brought for paramilitary shooting appointments in alleyways by their parents; Usually this is done to avoid death or exile over alleged drug dealing or anti-social behaviour. Sometimes it’s simply just punishment for a drunken altercation with a dissident paramilitary leader.
In most cases the victims know who is going to be blasting them in the legs.
Rather than examine any cause of crime the paramilitaries take the approach of the far right: criminals, drug dealers and perverts will be shot. Why? To keep our children safe. Not that anyone actually gets a trial.
They then reproduce the miserable conditions that conveniently creates more reasons for them to shoot. But there is no crime that warrants a paramilitary death sentence and no justice served in splintering someone’s kneecaps into a thousand pieces.
The one thing that is created is fear.
And fear let’s them rule.
Paramilitaries prey on their own young. They traumatise them, mutilate them and groom them to accept violence as the natural order of things. It has driven victims - usually young, male, working class teenagers - to suicide.
The fact that this violence is surging is damning for all of our political leaders. Year after year, they starve places like Derry of any meaningful investment and then subsequently starve of us of the hope that anything will change.
Now it's a dying city on all metrics.
Instead, you're left with a carve up of the few decent jobs between the forces of sectarianism-lite, an environment of cronyism and clientelism. Numbness to this violence and a willingness to use it is usually a learned response.
The shadowy masked men are simply repeating the violent sectarian playbook that earlier generations used to gain political legitimacy and a say in how the public’s wealth is divided up.
Power corrupts. Institutional power has long provided a safe haven for predators from within the state or within the church.
But Northern Ireland has plenty of unofficial illegal institutions that hold the power of life and death over the people they have appointed themselves to ‘protect’ - even this long into the peace process.
They will stay in power as long as sectarianism continues to blind our eyes to their violent abuse of the most vulnerable and poor within their own communities.