Northern Ireland's peace process is in danger of being derailed by paramilitary violence, according to a study of the province's informal criminal justice systems. There has been a general acceptance that the paramilitaries have "policed" their areas since the start of the Troubles 30 years ago.
Colin Knox and Rachel Monaghan, of Ulster University's school of public policy, economics and law, investigated punishment attacks in a two-year study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The attacks range from threats and curfews to knee-capping and execution.
Professor Knox and Dr Monaghan say the motivation for attacks is different in loyalist and republican areas. Loyalist paramilitaries tend to use punishment attacks to maintain internal discipline, or against rival groups in turf wars. The prime targets in republican areas are young people involved in anti-social behaviour such as car theft, joy riding, house breaking and vandalism. The Irish Republican Army sees such behaviour as a distraction from the "struggle".
Professor Knox and Dr Monaghan say the government often takes a "hear no evil, see no evil" approach. It is not politically expedient to argue that the brutality is a clear breach of the Mitchell principles of "democracy and non-violence", which underlie the Belfast peace agreement.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary is caught between public demand for effective policing and a lack of evidence for prosecutions.
The study found that since the 1994 ceasefire, there has been a decrease in shootings but an increase in beatings.