If there is one thing which marks out Northern Ireland society as abnormal, it is the public's acquiescence in so-called punishment attacks. What other modern democratic country would tolerate the shooting of a 15-year-old boy in both legs by what amounts to a vigilante gang?
Yet that is what happened in Coleraine and the masked thugs then beat him about the head. This is an appalling crime but the public reaction has been muted and it will soon be forgotten by all but the victim and his family.
As ever those responsible for the attack will claim their victim was guilty of some anti-social crime. Even if he was – and of course there is no proof of that – what was done to him was a greater crime.
The loyalist and republican gangs who carry out shootings and beatings like to coat their barbaric crimes with a veneer of respectability by claiming they are simply responding to public demands for action against petty criminals. Yet these are the same people who will take a life without a second thought.
There can be no justification for these attacks and they should not be tolerated by the community at large. Some brave people – particularly in the North West – have protested against the vigilante groups and their lead should be followed by many more. It is a scar on our society and a blot on our humanity that too many of us turn a blind eye to these appalling incidents which leave their victims maimed and traumatised. Many people have also been ordered to leave the country by the gangs.
In the new Northern Ireland there can only be one force of law and order, the PSNI. It is the duty of all law-abiding people to give to police all the information they have on those who carry out punishment beatings and shootings.
For their part the police must ensure that there are no areas where their writ does not run. They must also redouble their efforts to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and to bring the vigilante gangs to justice.