Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: 'Anti-drug' gangsters a scourge in society

The photograph carried in this newspaper today of members of an unnamed paramilitary group which has issued threats against alleged drug dealers in the Omagh area would be laughable if history did not teach us that such warnings can have a chilling outcome.

It is an image which is a throwback to the darkest days of the Troubles of self-appointed defenders of the community dressing up in make-believe combat uniforms. There is a temptation to regard them as sinister-looking versions of the children's Minions figures were it not for the sight of arms and ammunition lying on the table before them.

There is no reason to believe that these are not real weapons and bullets and that they would not be used to dispense back alley justice handed down from kangaroo courts.

We have seen such displays often in the past and we know the results of threats from paramilitary groups against people they deem to be anti-social elements, most usually those dealing in drugs.

But we are equally aware that such groups are themselves morally bankrupt. Loyalist and republican groups - and the figures pictured are believed to belong to some dissident republican organisation - have long funded their terror campaigns through either direct drug dealing or through extorting money from those engaged in this evil trade.

Their threats against people in their own communities accused of anti-social behaviour are not made for any high-minded motives but merely to intimidate and to attempt to validate their own criminal actions.

In today's Northern Ireland such groups have little or no popular support, no discernible political agenda and certainly no right to either threaten or attack anyone.

There is no doubt that the trade in drugs is widespread, lucrative and potentially deadly as witnessed by the alarming stream of deaths of young people. But that can never give any cloak of legitimacy to those who would cripple or even kill people they suspect of being drug dealers.

The PSNI is the only legitimate law enforcement agency operating openly on the streets of the province. It is trying valiantly to curb the trade in drugs but it needs the full-hearted co-operation of the public to put the dealers behind bars. It is to the police that all information about those suspected of criminal activities - and that includes paramilitary gangsters - should be given.

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