Too many decent folk held captive under shadow of the gunmen when thugs should be the ones deprived of their freedom
The gangsters who rule by fear and the brave who dare speak against them by Jim McDowell
A buff envelope is left at the front door of the newspaper office.
Your name is on it. Nothing else.
Inside, is a handwritten note. Usually in capital letters.
There is no name at the bottom of the note.
Or your phone rings. The caller on the other end is using a land line. He, or she, insists right at the start: "I can't give you my name."
You tell them you don't reveal sources anyway, in any circumstances. You offer to meet them. They reply: "I can't be seen in public with you.
"If I am, I'll be dead. My name will be on a bullet. Or my family will be hurt." Every journalist who has covered the Troubles - and the terror gangs who spawned and sprung from that dirty little sectarian war - knows the routine of what is described above.
You are getting, or about to get, vital information to help expose the criminals and paramilitaries who are still paralysing whole communities in Northern Ireland through one four-letter word.
The people who contact you from the communities where the paramilitaries still have the jackboot of fascism on their necks fear being found out and dubbed with another potentially deadly four-letter word.
But they're the bravest of the brave.
Whether they live in loyalist or republican enclaves still bedevilled by the bully boys of the rump of the IRA, the UDA, the UVF, the INLA, or, now, the deranged dissidents, the courageous corps of decent folk who speak, even anonymously, to the newspapers, or the police, are dicing with death, or serious injury.
Being burned in their beds at night with a petrol bomb hurled through a window. Or petrol poured into their letterbox and set alight.
I still know one man who sleeps with a fire extinguisher beside his bed every night, and who is still prepared to expose the bogeymen on his doorstep.
And still, just round the corner from his house, is a massive paramilitary mural.
And that, literally, paints another picture of how the paramilitaries are empowered by another almost subliminal threat in the areas where they still operate with impunity.
We, the taxpayer, pay them out of the public purse for 'reimagining' those gun-toting, offensive murals of gunmen in masks, on both sides.
They get the money. The murals are painted over with images of local history or landmarks.
A few weeks later, we're back to the images of the gunman.
Or the shadow of the gunman hovering over the folk who live there.
Or, again, we pay the godfathers of these STILL outlawed and illegal organisations to act as so-called 'community activists'.
So what we are doing is 'institutionalising' these organisations - instead of eradicating them.
Generations now have been condemned to growing up in areas where paramilitary rule is the norm.
Where everybody knows who the main men are and also know that a word out of place to the wrong person (someone "connected") can bring a beating or a bullet.
Whoever first said that 'peace wasn't brought to this country, it was bought in this country' was speaking with more than a modicum of truth. But that 'peace', however piecemeal, means the still armed paramilitaries are still running their rackets: drug dealing, extortion, 'punishment beatings', and either ordering, or actually carrying out, killings.
Like that of John 'Bonzer' Boreland just last Sunday night.
And even that act of murder sends out another sinister signal: that no one, not even a former UDA 'brigadier', is immune or beyond reach of the long tentacles of the paramilitaries.
The message to the communities which the paramilitaries prey on and prostitute is simple.
If someone like Boreland is not safe, who is?
So it is this all pervasive veil of fear which permeates the power base of the paramilitaries: all of them.
The overwhelming majority of decent, honest folk who have to live in these working class communities - Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett in Belfast, in the housing estates of Ballymoney or the Bogside in Derry - have to deal with and endure this overbearing burden of having the paramilitaries perched on their shoulders relentlessly, without escape, 24/7.
These are not people who can lift the gloom, and doom, by hopping into their Mercs in BT9 and heading for the golf or yacht club.
These are people imprisoned by their economic circumstances, and imperilled by the paramilitary organisations which operate their own form of Mafia-style 'omerta'.
Which brings me back to the start of this piece. The brave people who come to this newspaper, or any other, and speak out, or scribble notes, even if under the perfectly understandable cloak of anonymity.
They are part of the solution of exorcising the bogeymen of the paramilitaries, once and for all.
And if they decide to impart similar information to a 'watchdog' set up to 'monitor' and report on illegal paramilitary activity, fair enough.
But really, as reported in these pages today, padding out such a 'watchdog' with a special additional squad of 50 police officers is not enough.
We've had enough of watchdog organisations set up out of political expediency in this country.
We've had a bellyful of political poodles pandering to paramilitaries, and claiming they've been 'engaged for years imploring them to leave the stage'.
Leave the stage? That pathetic piece of political posturing and piffle has been running longer than 'The Mousetrap' has been running in the West End. What we need in Northern Ireland now is not so much a mouse trap, as a rat trap.
What we need and deserve is a dedicated and direct unit of seasoned and experienced anti-terror cops to hunt down and jail the paramilitary godfathers.
Just look at what is happening in America now, with the round-up of major Mafia figures.
What we need now is no more well-meaning watchdogs or political poodles.
We need attack dogs to put the bite on the bogeymen here who still think of themselves as 'The Untouchables'.
That's the only way to put down the dogs-of-war - the UVF/UDA/INLA/Continuity IRA/ Real IRA - of a now distant terror war.
In short, there are still too many people imprisoned by the paramilitaries: when it should be the paramilitaries who are in prison.