RAAD's campaign of terror must be brought to an end
On a Friday afternoon last month, members of the PSNI raided Ray Coyle's shop in Waterloo Street in Derry and took away a quantity of stock for testing.
"They told me they had information that I was selling illegal substances. I told them that they already had information about who had shot me and they didn't seem to have carried out any raids about that."
Ray had been shot in his shop in February 2010 by a three-man gang from Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD). Collapsed onto the floor with a bullet in each leg, Ray screamed "f***ing cowards" as the gang left. One turned in the doorway, stepped back into the shop and shot him again, in the thigh.
In hospital a few days later, Ray says, he gave the names of the three gunmen to the PSNI. "But as far as I know, that was the end of it.
"I haven't been selling anything which isn't as legal as Harp or Johnnie Walker. If anything I was selling was declared illegal, I would have it off the shelves in an instant."
RAAD seems unfazed by condemnation, or by a series of protest rallies. The organisation's latest victim has been a 29-year-old from Derry, shot four times at his home in St Johnston in Donegal on Tuesday.
One explanation commonly offered for RAAD's ability to continue to operate in spite of Ray Coyle and others having 'named names' is that the group, unlike 'dissident' republican organisations, does not target the security forces, or directly threaten the peace process. So, apparently, getting rid of RAAD isn't a high priority objective for law-enforcement agencies.
News reports which have lumped RAAD in with the Real IRA or Continuity IRA are wide of the mark and a source of confusion.
RAAD was founded in 2008 by members and recent ex-members of the Provisional IRA in Derry. It made its 'debut' in April the following year, admitting responsibility detonating a pipe bomb at a house in the city.
In its first 'authorised' interview, in the Derry Journal in August 2009, the group explained that, "There is absolutely no political agenda within our organisation". Confirming the group's provenance in the Provisional IRA, the representative claimed that "rank-and-file members" of Sinn Fein were "fully supportive" of it activities.
Widespread irrational attitudes to drugs are another factor helping sustain RAAD's activities. It was observed in the same Journal article that, "The organisation is now - rightly or wrongly - considered by many to be at the cutting edge of eradicating drug-dealing in the North West".
The leaders of mainstream republicanism who played midwife at the birth of RAAD will have seen it as a means of keeping order in the community by cracking down on criminality and 'anti-social behaviour', which the PSNI wasn't yet able to handle.
In this perspective, RAAD, far from being a challenge to the political settlement, has been an ancillary organisation helping prepare the way for the settlement to take hold.
Sinn Fein now seems set to adopt an altogether sharper line against RAAD. Over the past two years, the group has developed a momentum of its own and seemingly deepened that sense of entitlement to impose its will on the community, which has always been a hallmark of republican paramilitaries.
If it isn't challenging the peace process, RAAD now challenges Sinn Fein's status and standing in the community to an extent which has begun to alarm local party leaders.
The implication of failing to face down RAAD became clear following the killing of Andy Allen on February 9 last. At a protest rally at the Top of the Hill, near the family home in the Waterside, scores of young people gathered in rough formation wearing defiant T-shirts reading 'Andy RIP'.
Afterwards, some had to be dissuaded from proceeding to the home of a RAAD leader on the other side of the river to express their anger.
Andy's uncle, William Allen, editor of the Londonderry Sentinel, wrote last week: "My own feeling is that many disaffected young people were victimised over the years, because they would not tow the republican line and, as a result of their treatment at the hands of masked bullies ... were marginalised and alienated.
"RAAD's tactics will achieve the same as the Provos. It will alienate more young people. But they aren't so afraid of RAAD ... We could have a vicious tit-for-tat cycle."
These are the circumstances which have led some who were giving RAAD a nod and a wink to conclude that the organisation will have to be stopped - and soon.
A bit late for Andy Allen and others, of course.