Government challenged to take action over scale of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland
Organisation: The Detail (United Kingdom)
Publication Date: 03/14/2017
Size of team/newsroom:small
DescriptionIn December 2015 a three-person panel was appointed by government with responsibility for formulating a strategy for the disbanding of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groupings. The panel was not scheduled to report until after the May 5, 2016 NI Assembly election. Sensing that this important issue would be ignored by political parties and thus mainstream media in the build-up to the election I sought to pre-empt the work of the panel by uncovering and highlighting the scale of the problem as well as presenting potential solutions from sectors including victims, ex-prisoners, community groups and the security forces. Using Freedom of Information requests, media questions and scraping data from more than 10 years of police, courts, public transport and public housing records I was able to highlight the continued impact paramilitary groups have on communities, despite nearly 20 years of peace. Among the key findings of my report were that from 2006-15 paramilitaries were responsible for 22 killings, more than 1,000 shootings and bombings, 787 punishment attacks and nearly 4,000 incidents where people were forced from their homes, while security alerts halted more than 4,000 train services. I was able to confirm that Police believed paramilitary groups had thousands of members and were connected to 33 organised crime gangs, amassing tens of millions of pounds each year through smuggling, counterfeiting, drug dealing and extortion. Despite this, the Northern Ireland Courts Service confirmed that from 2007-15 there were just over 80 convictions secured under terrorism legislation. I also highlighted how an estimated 40,000 ex-paramilitary prisoners, now committed to peace, faced difficulties returning to civilian life with barriers to employment, insurance and travel commonplace, despite previous commitments to remove these.
What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?My project was innovative, in the first instance, because it changed the direction of debate in relation to how Northern Ireland's paramilitary problem should be addressed. Previous projects were often partisan and focused on presenting the views of individual groupings (eg victims, ex-prisoners, community groups), with political representatives then commenting on the proposals raised. However, I set out to present a more impartial, rounded package with the views of all of these groups taken together - with politicians asked to respond in action rather than comment. The project was open-data and multi-media and featured a written piece, infographics, two short films and interactive tables. It was also written in three formats (long-form, short-form and academic) in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. In terms of impact, the project project was published a week before the May 5, 2016 Assembly election in a bid to have the issues contained raised before the public went to the polls. Following a joint publication by thedetail.tv and the front page of the Irish Times, the article was discussed on BBC and RTE radio with follow up pieces in the Belfast Telegraph, Daily Mirror and Irish News. The academic version of the report was published by the Community Relations Council. I was then asked to brief the three person panel, with my findings referenced in their final report. The Northern Ireland Assembly Justice Committee also discussed my findings. In the months that have followed, the findings of my report were featured prominently in the 2016 edition of the Peace Monitoring Report, while newspaper columnists continue to reference the work in articles relating to the problem.
Technologies used for this project:My project featured two infographics (using Adobe Illustrator), two short films (Canon c300/Premiere Pro), an interactive calendar (http://bl.ocks.org) and statistical analysis (Excel).
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