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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Exile - a punishment second only to death

Civil rights activist Vincent McKenna bids farewell to two "exiles"

Despite the truce agreed by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, "ceasefire" remains a strictly relative term.

The Search for Peace
Punishment beatings and shootings are an everyday reality for those considered to have stepped out of line in those tight-knit, segregated communities dominated by paramilitary groups.

One of the most common form of chastisement has been enforced exile from the territory.

Figures are notoriously hard to confirm.

Andrew Robinson of Manchester charity Maranatha: "One young man had 30 minutes to get out"
According to one human rights group Families Against Intimidation and Terror, about 200 people have been forced out of Northern Ireland since the start of the year for what is euphemistically called "anti-social" behaviour.

Ulster Unionist MP John Taylor says the number is more like 500, while many more have left in fear without informing official bodies of why they are going.

[ image: Ian Price, 13, recovering in hospital in March after an alleged loyalist punishment beating]
Ian Price, 13, recovering in hospital in March after an alleged loyalist punishment beating
The practice of expelling troublemakers is not new to Northern Ireland. Paramilitaries, especially in staunchly republican neighbourhoods, have long assumed the role of a de-facto police force.

In many nationalist areas, there is deep mistrust of the Royal Ulster Constabulary because of its establishment status. The make-up of the force is overwhelmingly Protestant and Catholics have long disputed its supposed impartiality.

During the height of the Troubles, many hard-line republican areas became no-go areas for the RUC, leaving a law enforcement vacuum filled by the IRA.

Since the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, it has stepped up its policing role, according to Monsignor Denis Faul, a leading Catholic priest in mid-Ulster.

IRA police ambitions

Its aim has been to gain an official role in any new Northern Ireland police force, he told BBC News Online. Indeed, last year Sinn Fein issued proposals for a new police service that would include former IRA men in high-ranking positions.

In the meantime, paramilitaries are sticking to strong-arm tactics to "maintain order" against petty criminals and those who refuse to abide by their leadership.

To many, banishment is considered second only to death in punishment rankings. Even shootings and mutilations are thought to be a preferable option.

Depression and trouble

Victims, like the four teenagers "expelled" at the weekend, are often young and have never been away from home. Their crimes may be drug dealing, car theft or burglary.

"They are closely-knit families here. A lot of the people expelled were inadequates who maybe dropped out of education, who maybe tormented their neighbours," says Mgr Faul.

[ image: Many exiles find it hard to adjust to life in London]
Many exiles find it hard to adjust to life in London
Many exiles make for mainland cities such as London and Manchester. But separation from their loved ones and a different pace of life can drive them into depression and further trouble.

"They are inadequate people who very often have medical and social problems. They are not made for the society in England.

"Some people will look after them for a while, but later they get involved in misconduct and in the English legal system. They do not have the family, the back-up and they do not have any money."

Returning home, even for a quick visit, is seen as grave dissent. Those who dare to defy paramilitary orders are punished with death.

Liam Kearns and David Madigan are among a handful to successfully stand up to terror tactics. They sought refuge in a Newry cathedral in 1991, aged 23 and 19 respectively.

The IRA eventually lifted its threat of "direct military action" against the pair.

'Swift justice'

Yet there is respect for this sort of summary "justice" among some members of the Catholic community.

"There is an awful lot of feeling that they're getting some of what they deserve because of what they've done," says security expert Alan Murray.

"Certainly in these areas it's seen as swift justice - as certain justice - whereas the state system is fraught with bureaucracy."

Banishments are also increasingly common in loyalist areas, for many of the same reasons, says Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party.

RUC mistrust

"There's always been a problem with the RUC in some [loyalist] areas," says Mr Hutchinson.

Exile is also ordered against paramilitaries who have broken the rules, perhaps by stealing money or acting as police informers.

Mr Hutchinson says the current ceasefire has diverted paramilitary loyalists to sorting out their own house.

"Before people were fighting against each other. Now they are on ceasefire it's given them plenty of time to look at their own communities."

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