A man and woman have been shot in Northern Ireland while attempting to protect their son from paramilitaries.

The couple, who are in their 50s, are in a stable condition in hospital after they were shot in the legs by gunmen when they refused to hand over their son in Belfast.

It is understood republican paramilitaries in the west of the city ordered the attack on the boy.

Gunmen arrived at a house in the Turf Lodge area of the city yesterday evening to carry out the attack but the boy's parents fought them off.

A police source said: "The parents wouldn't give the son over so they were shot instead. There are a number of other lads in Belfast under similar threat at the minute."

The couple were taken to the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital following the shooting.

PSNI Chief Inspector Norman Haslett said three masked and armed men took "law and order into their own hands" when they shot the couple in the legs yesterday.

He described the couple's ordeal as "horrific" and said those responsible have "no moral compass whatsoever".

"People have taken law and order into their own hands and assumed the role of judge and jury and have passed the sentence. There is one police service in west Belfast and that is the Police Service of Northern Ireland," he said.

Sinn Fein MLA for the area Pat Sheehan said none of the family were involved in criminality.

"The shooting of a man and woman in their 50s at a house in Norglen Parade in Turf Lodge was wrong and I condemn it," he said.

"There can be absolutely no justification for these type of actions. Whoever is responsible needs to stop these barbaric attacks immediately.

"I would call on anyone with information on this attack to bring it forward to the PSNI."

Alliance Party justice spokesman Trevor Lunn also condemned the shootings. "Yet again we see guns on the streets of Belfast," he said.

"There can be no justification for this type of attack and whoever was behind it needs to be condemned without equivocation."

SDLP MLA for the area Alex Attwood described the double shooting as "the latest act of tyranny in west Belfast".

"The fact that two people, a man and a woman and both in their 50s, have been injured confirms that no-one is off limits to those who are now using the gun," he said.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Sergeant Keith Wilson said: "Both the man and the woman have been taken to hospital for treatment to their injuries."

He asked anyone with information or who noticed anything suspicious in the area to come forward.