Cowards in fancy dress with masculinity issues
"These are pathetic men", she said. "Sure", I said. "But what exactly do you mean?" "Little p***** like big guns", she replied tartly.
It's a bit rude, but, really, doesn't it sum up much of the Troubles at street level in one short sentence?
In the last two days two men - one in north Belfast, the other in Poleglass on the edge of the city - have been shot in the legs by masked men.
These are not isolated incidents. In recent months there has been an upsurge in paramilitary-style shootings, mainly by one or other faction of those styling themselves as the IRA.
Not long ago in Ardoyne, north Belfast, father-of-four Michael McGibbon was shot three times in the leg by dissident republicans.
He died in the arms of his wife as she comforted him.
The place of "punishment" and execution was down an alleyway where he had been shot "by appointment".
Taking the longer view, since 1973, when statistics began to be collected, more than 6,000 people have been either shot or mutilated by loyalist and republican groups which are, in effect, torture gangs.
Typically, the victims were young, vulnerable and working-class. The statistical picture is of course an underestimate, as is the case with other crimes to the body such as rape and sexual assault.
The IRA, UDA and UVF were the main perpetrators. Current members of Sinn Fein were heavily implicated in the "knee-capping" system, as were a number of prominent loyalists.
Gender still seems to offer some protection - most victims are male - but age is no barrier. Since 1990 more than 500 children have been traumatised as a result of paramilitary child abuse. The victims were as young as 12.
"Punishments" take the form of shootings to the arms or legs, or sadistic beatings by paramilitary gangs.
The Islamist warriors intent on cleaning up the world for a higher cause would no doubt approve of their actions.
But back to the men who carry out these assaults.
What goes on in their heads, or perhaps that should read "in their bodies"?
They like guns and they like playing with guns. They like dressing up in military-style regalia, though they are somewhat shy about revealing their faces. They also like being photographed with guns when doing safe propaganda stunts.
Whisper it, but don't they look a wee bit ridiculous?
Their palaces of justice are alleyways and waste ground. Their favourite time is after dark.
Their "active service" is virtually risk-free, as few are prosecuted for what are in effect attacks on their own neighbours.
They presumably get a surge of power and enjoyment when inflicting pain on others. Or do they? I just don't know.
What else might it be? Local bully boys craving status and respect (at whatever price)? Losers compensating for their personal inadequacies - both physical and mental?
One thing is for sure, men who dress up in funny outfits, who hide their faces, who attack defenceless victims (including children), and who run away from a fair fight are not only cowardly. They are pathetic males with masculinity problems.
- Liam Kennedy is a professor of history at Queen's University Belfast, author of Unhappy The Land (2016), and a founder member of Children Of The Troubles