Belfast Telegraph

Will the writing ever be on the wall for the paramilitary gangs raking it in while disgraced Stormont falls yet again?

By Lindy McDowell

Driving through Belfast the other day, I spotted what at first glance I took to be a paramilitary mural, but which actually turned out to be an advertisement by an enterprising (legitimate) local firm promoting its wares.

The thought did occur to me though, aren't the paramilitaries missing a trick here? Product placement on paramilitary murals? Surely that could be (another) nice little earner for the boys in balaclavas. You know the sort of thing, "The UDA - their only crime was loyalty" cards...

Obviously there would be a limited range of products that would sit comfortably amid the depictions of masked men with assault weaponry and sanctimonious slogans.

Maybe camouflage clothing outlets might be interested?

And on that point... I always wonder why local paramilitaries insist on wearing camouflage on murals and on the march. It's not as if, in the course of the day job, they have any real need for an outfit that blends in with rural undergrowth. Not when their active service duty involves flogging drugs or touring round their local area extorting money from legitimate business.

This, of course, may also explain why they have no real need for extra income from what we could call extra mural sources.

For the shabby fact is that all these years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, as we fuss and focus on our latest political crisis, in the background it's still business as usual for Paramilitaries plc.

As someone (well-placed to know) once said: "They haven't gone away, you know." And they still haven't gone away. A middle-aged couple shot in the legs. A police officer savagely gunned down. Just two recent headline stories against a backdrop of the ongoing, relentless, never-ending day-to-day gangsterism we all know about, but have become weary of complaining about.

The upcoming election (and how much is that one going to cost us?) is the result of a row about a shocking, botched heating scheme.

Not for one second am I trying to trivialise what happened there. Almost half a billion of public funding wasted is a staggering, sickening scandal. Of course there needs to be answers.

But for me, if anything epitomises the failure of Stormont, it is the continued existence of paramilitary groupings that should long since have been shovelled into the cesspit of history where they belong.

Instead they're still doing quite nicely. If you want to gauge their confidence in their own future, have a tour around town (any town) and consider some of the murals.

Legitimate businesses would be thrilled to have access to the sort of advertising platforms these thugs arrogantly acquire for themselves.

On the road to Stormont itself you can spot quite a few.

What's ever done about it? Nothing. Because rattling the paramilitary cage is not considered the done thing anymore. Let sleeping mad dogs lie...

Some say it's a healthy sign that finally we've got a Stormont crisis that's not about the constitutional question. There may be some small truth in that.

But while we still have armed gangs flaunting their existence and taunting decent society, let's not kid ourselves we have genuinely moved on.

We are stuck in an endless political rut here. Come the election, two main parties - we all know who - will share power. Again. That, presumably, will be after more 'talks' which will end eventually in yet another 'agreement' of the you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours variety.

True, there will be a winnowing down of MLA numbers, but all hands will be handsomely compensated there.

And speaking of public money, just how much has the continued existence of the paramilitaries really cost this place? Does anybody know? That's aside from the even more terrible cost in human life and human misery.

We may kid ourselves this election is finally about real politics.

But I say we're still like your man, Nero of Rome. Fiddling while the wood pellets burn.

Solutions to problems I didn’t know I had

I have a problem with solutions.

We have too many solutions.

Solutions are everywhere. Plumbing solutions. Electrical solutions. Cleaning solutions.

There’s not a white van on the road these days that isn’t offering some sort of “solution” on its side.

Often, too, a solution for something which you didn’t even know could be a problem.

The other day I saw a van branded with a slogan offering “coffee solutions”.

What is a coffee solution?

It’s all a bit of a puzzle.

With no obvious solution.

This January sale seems like poppycock

This is an odd one. The other day in Marks & Spencer in Belfast, I noticed on the counter near a till they were selling poppies. In January.

To be exact, poppy brooches “with proceeds going to the British Legion”.

And they’ve been reduced in price.

Who buys their poppy in the January sales?

Is this just me, or is this not a bit off, never mind odd?

I suppose, as another store proclaims, every little helps.

But I still think it odd.

I’d genuinely love to know what you think.

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