Brazen killers must be caught
There was a time when news of a shooting - even a fatal one - in the Markets area of Belfast would have caused few eyebrows to be raised. During the Troubles it was a dangerous place, part of an interface with loyalist areas on the Ormeau Road and the scene of several notorious sectarian attacks as well as IRA ambushes on the security forces.
But those were past times, or so we fondly imagined. However, illusions that the guns have finally been silenced were shattered yesterday morning when the cold-blooded execution of former senior IRA man Gerard 'Jock' Davison took place in the small enclave just a stone's thrown from Belfast's city centre.
It was a horrific killing carried out in front of terrified children, some of whom may even have been the victim's own family.
Mr Davison was a man with enemies, but just who they are remains something of a mystery at this point in time. Police have ruled out involvement by the groups that first came to mind, loyalist paramilitaries or dissident republicans.
So who else would be proficient enough and sufficiently brazen to carry out the slaying in broad daylight in the area where Davison was very well-known?
What must be stated clearly is that whoever was responsible has no support in the Northern Ireland of today. Whatever Mr Davison's history, no one had the right to be his judge and executioner.
These are not the days of the Troubles, but unfortunately they have left a hideous legacy. We know there is a sub-culture in the province where grudges are settled at the point of a gun. It is not just the recidivist rump of the terrorist organisations which still have access to deadly arsenals. So, too, do well organised criminal gangs.
But that is not the real face of Northern Ireland. Rather we should look at the fact that detectives were making house-to-house enquiries in the Markets area in the wake of the shooting in an effort to find witnesses. That shows how much life here has changed in the last two decades, even if we are sometimes given ghastly glimpses of the past.
What we now need is for anyone with information on who killed Gerard Davison to pass it on to the PSNI so that they can apprehend the criminals involved and put them in the dock. We must never again give the impression that justice can be dispensed from the barrel of a gun.