Northern Ireland

Loyalist paramilitary threats 'linked to suicides'

Michael Robinson
Image caption Michael Robinson took his own life six weeks ago

There have been calls for loyalist paramilitaries to end beatings and threats against young people in the Shankill area of Belfast.

A local pastor said the attacks are creating fear, leading some young people to take their own lives.

Six weeks ago 18-year-old Michael Robinson took his own life. Friends said the threats from paramilitaries became too much.

They say he got involved with the wrong crowd and owed money to loyalists.

Michael's brother also died through suicide four years ago in similar circumstances.

Pastor Jack McKee, from the New Life City Church, said it is time for the paramilitaries to stop their actions.

"If whatever group was involved, or whatever the reason is, if people could draw back then that would lessen the number of lives that are being taken.

"My appeal to anyone who is dealing drugs or putting pressure on anyone is to back off."

It is an experience that rings true to 16-year-old Corey Hunter. When he got into trouble paramilitaries threatened him and he thought about suicide.

"I was meant to get beat by them and I thought about it.

"You would do something wrong and then they would let you off and if you did it again they would hit you and if you did it again they would put a threat on you.

"My uncle told me they were going to beat me and other people told me they were going to shoot me. I was scared I would never walk again."

Other teenagers attending a youth club on the Shankill said the fear makes growing up in the area much harder.

"Your childhood is supposed to be the best period of your life and that's what you always hear from adults and you're supposed to be able to have a laugh with your mates and be a bit boisterous.

"I don't think anyone should be getting threatened by paramilitaries about getting their knees blown off anything like that is too far and would drive you to having suicidal thoughts.

Pastor Jack McKee doesn't point the finger at any one group, but he wants to see an end to the grip loyalists have held on this community for generations.