Paramilitary threats within communities have become “normalised” in some parts of Northern Ireland, an academic has warned.
It comes after police confirmed they are investigating an incident in which a Catholic family were forced to move from their accommodation in east Belfast after a threat was made against them.
Politicians have blamed the threat against the mother of three in the Cregagh estate on loyalist paramilitaries.
PSNI Chief Inspector Wendy Pollock said: “The family have been left traumatised, and no longer feels safe in their own home and have been forced to relocate.
“Our inquiries are ongoing, and I am appealing to anyone with information to contact us.”
Police are treating the incident as a sectarian hate crime.
A Housing Executive spokesperson said: “We are aware of this case and we are assisting the family involved.
“In recent weeks, we have offered temporary accommodation to the family but this has been declined and they have chosen to make their own arrangements.
“They have requested single let, temporary accommodation in an area of very high demand and we will continue to provide them with advice and guidance on housing options in the days ahead.”
Dr Jonny Byrne, a senior lecturer in criminology at Ulster University, said the incident was not a surprise.
He said: “Considering we still have the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme from 2015, considering that we still have all the architecture of the conflict here in 2021, it is not a surprise.
“The fact that there is a mother and child involved has increased the attention, but unfortunately it is nothing unusual.
“If you look at the housing statistics going back 20 years you can see the number of families who have been intimidated from their homes because of paramilitary intimidation.
“You need to ask what the benchmark is. For a lot of people it is: are we better off than we were 20 years ago? Most definitely we are. What we are finding now is that it’s becoming more acute and becoming more geographically specific, as opposed to across Northern Ireland.
“It is easy for people to see that things are getting better, but on the other level we still have paramilitaries in communities where people are being intimidated.
“There is an acceptance that individuals in organisations can do these things that are not part of the rule of law and it is taken as normal, that is where the problem is in 2021.
“There needs to be a law and order approach but there also needs to be support within communities to encourage people to follow a community development model and not support paramilitarism.
“This is an issue, but it is something which has become normalised across these areas where paramilitaries exist.”
Alliance councillor Michael Long said: “It is absolutely disgusting in this day and age we have anyone, never mind a single mother, being intimidated out of an area, for nothing other than the ‘crime’ of being a different religion to the majority of people there.
“We are in the 21st century – the poison of paramilitarism should no longer be infecting our society.
“I call on those who purport to represent these groups and others to come out and condemn this in the strongest possible terms. Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their own home, and the victims have my full support.”
SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite said: “I am sickened that a young mother and her children have been forced to leave their home following a campaign of intimidation.
“Everyone has the right to live in a society without fear of intimidation. Those behind this threat offer nothing to people in the Cregagh or east Belfast.
“Twenty-three years on from the Agreement it beggars belief that illegal paramilitary gangs still exist and are still intimidating people from their homes.”