Paramilitaries are the real enemy
Every so often we get a chilling reminder of the way things were and how imperfect our peace really is. Near midnight on Tuesday in Londonderry, a self-appointed loyalist gang summoned a local man to a playground and shot him in both legs. It was a punishment shooting by appointment, a macabre aping of how dissident republicans have carried out similar attacks on the other city of the River Foyle.
After the level of terrorism that so many of us endured for decades, such attacks may seem of relatively little consequence. But they are not.
They are an affront to decent society. The people who carry out such shootings, be they from republican or loyalist backgrounds, have no right on their side.
They are criminals and what they do is – and should be – punishable by imprisonment. Quite simply those who engage in such violence do so to intimidate the communities they operate in. It is a warning to everyone to beware of running foul of the paramilitary groups.
They may pretend that they are doling out punishment against anti-social elements at the behest of their communities, but they are far from being neighbourhood policemen.
The shootings reinforce their control of areas and also allow them to engage in their own anti-social behaviour. It is well known that paramilitary gangs are behind much of the drug-dealing, racketeering and other criminal acts which blight so many working-class areas.
They are the real enemies of their communities, but their firepower and their callous and casual use of violence ensures that few are willing to speak out against them.
But these communities must speak out against violence like punishment shootings. Few businesses are going to invest in areas where such attacks take place and where there is an impression that paramilitaries rule the roost.
Anyone with information about those responsible for such attacks should give it to the police, even in confidence. That is the only way they will ever throw off the yoke of the terrorists.