Oliver McMullan says he has been contacted by people from within the loyalist community who insist that many people are being ‘pressurised’ and ‘coerced’ into signing up for paramilitary groups.
The East Antrim MLA said: “The stranglehold of fear and intimidation that loyalist groups have over communities in east Antrim must be broken. I’ve been contacted by people from the loyalist community who have told me there are those within paramilitary groups who want to leave but say they can’t. I’ve been told these people are under intimidation from the leaders of these groups and they are afraid of what could happen if they leave. These loyalist organisations are steeped in criminality and seek to control communities through fear and intimidation.
“Not only are communities caught in their grip of fear but it also seems some people are being pressured and coerced into getting involved with these gangs. The PSNI need to tackle the leaders and activities of these groups in order to break the stranglehold they have on communities. I’ll be in contact with the PSNI to discuss what they’re doing to dismantle these groups in the area.”
Commenting on the issue, Chief Inspector Simon Ball said: “It’s clear the vast majority of people want to move away from a society where paramilitary groupings are able to exert control over communities through violence and intimidation. The fact that some of these factions are still attempting to recruit others should be of concern to everyone.
“We have made it clear that we will continue to investigate all reports of alleged criminality without fear or favour. Just recently we carried out a number of searches in the Carrick area and made an arrest in connection with loyalist paramilitary activity. Throughout the last number of months across Mid and East Antrim District we have taken weapons off the streets - weapons that would have been used to cause serious harm. Where there is evidence of criminality we will do our best to bring offenders before the courts.
“The difficulty lies in the fact that there is fear of speaking out within both loyalist and republican communities against those involved in criminality. We understand that to effectively tackle this issue we need the support and confidence of communities and that requires not just positive action from the police service, but a wider approach involving community and political representatives. We all have a part to play in shaping the type of society that we want to live in.”