In a week when Northern Ireland suffered bomb alerts, petrol bomb attacks, stabbing incidents and shootings, our criminal underbelly has raised its ugly head once again.
Organised crime has been on the march over the last few weeks but the sheer volume of incidents this week alone has been of huge concern.
Fifteen families were forced to leave their homes in Newry last Saturday as police investigated an explosive device, while a petrol bomb was thrown at a property in Cookstown.
A 29-year-old man was left fighting for his life after he was shot in north Belfast on Sunday. It was the first of two shooting incidents in the space of 24 hours.
Police attended the scene of another gun attack in the Mossside Gardens area of Ballymoney.
It was reported that a male had been shot in a residential property. It was the 17th shooting in the area since 2020.
As the violence raged on, Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey and SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon were both targeted after reports of explosive devices at their Belfast offices on Tuesday.
Residents in west Belfast’s Devonshire Place were evacuated from their homes after police dealt with a hoax device on Wednesday.
A day later, three men were arrested following a stabbing incident in Ballycastle.
Meanwhile, police are now investigating images of armed and masked men in Crumlin warning drug dealers to leave the area.
Graffiti also appeared in the vicinity warning ‘IRA territory drug dealers out’.
DUP MLA Pam Cameron urged the PSNI to get to the bottom of the pictures, claiming the men were linked to a paramilitary group.
Local SDLP councillor Thomas Burns added: “I want to make it very clear that these men and the group they claim to represent do not speak on behalf of our community and they are certainly not the face of justice in our community.”
Sinn Fein’s South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney called on the Crumlin community to “remain united” following the images of the masked armed men.
“All right-minded people will be affronted by the irresponsible behaviour of those involved,” he said.
“This is another instance of anti-community activity in Crumlin carried out by a small number of criminal mavericks whose sole motivation is to create fear and alarm.”
All of this week’s incidents come on the back of the north Belfast murder of Daniel ‘Danny’ McClean, who had links to Oglaigh na hEireann, and the show of strength allegedly by the east Belfast UVF in Pitt Park.
Three men were arrested on Friday in connection to that incident.
Former RUC and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan believes the organised gangs and paramilitary groups could be attempting to stamp their authority on communities as the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight.
“I think as things start to open up again, the organised criminals, who plague communities, are starting to come back out again,” he said. “The dissidents have been out trying to bolster their position.
“I think they’re feeling quite vulnerable at the moment because, quite frankly, very few people support them actively.
“The more the pandemic has gone on, people have looked around and thought ‘there’s more to life than this’ in terms of the terrorism here.
“They’re now trying reassert their authority again. That applies to both the loyalist areas and the republican areas.
“People are just fed up with paramilitarism and they want it to go away.”
SDLP MLA and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly added that Northern Ireland’s political leaders should be careful with their words as they can play on people’s emotions and heighten tensions, especially during the fallout of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Ms Kelly also said that previous PSNI Chief Constables “have made it very clear” that the so-called paramilitary groups are organised criminal gangs, but some have taken advantage of the Brexit fallout.
She explained that the Independent Reporting Commission told the Policing Board last week that there are still high levels of recruitment into paramilitary organisations.
“There’s a conversation to be had about are we doing enough to enable those who want to transition away from paramilitary activities and break the hold they have over some communities,” Ms Kelly added.
“It is a worrying trend and it is something that reminds us that we cannot take our eye off the ball and we must remain vigilant.
“People in political leadership need to show leadership and calm situations, rather than throwing fuel onto the fire.”
Despite the extreme rise in criminal activity in recent weeks, the Department of Justice revealed on Friday that the risk of becoming a victim of crime remains lower in Northern Ireland (6.9%) than in England and Wales (13.3%).
The findings were published within the Research and Statistical Bulletin ‘Experience of Crime: Findings from the 2019/20 Northern Ireland Safe Community Survey’ (NISCS).
Results from the survey indicated that most adults did not experience one of the crimes asked about in the survey, such as domestic burglary, theft, common assault and wounding.
The findings estimated that 6.9% of adults here were victims of at least one crime measured through the survey over the last 12 months.
The 2019/20 rate of 6.9% is one of the lowest victimisation rates estimated since the measure was first reported in 1998 (23.0%).