The wider Coleraine community has been in the devastating grip of paramilitaries as crime gangs try to take their battle onto the streets for control of the drugs black market.
It can come as no surprise that the commander of the Causeway Coast and Glens policing district, Superintendent Ian Magee, asked for the help of the paramilitary crime task force as deadly shooting attacks ramped up in the past year.
The task force was established in 2017 to help tackle organised crime by paramilitary groups in conjunction with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and HMRC, granting greater powers for seizures and arrests.
It is investigating a number of paramilitary crime groups across Northern Ireland.
However, former RUC and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan has asked why paramilitaries are still allowed to operate after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
There were 14 recorded shooting incidents in the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area last year, but none in 2019.
The area was only behind Belfast, which had 16 shootings in 2020.
It is understood the North Antrim UDA was behind the callous shooting of 61-year-old grandmother Sally Cummins in October in a dispute over drugs.
In July of last year, a number of shots were fired at a house in Willow Drive in Coleraine, while Ms Cummins was shot in the head in her home on the Bushmills Road.
Police confirmed that terrorist involvement was “just one line of enquiry” into the attack on Ms Cummins.
Just one month later, Paul Fleming’s head injuries from a brazen shotgun attack at his home in Coleraine emerged on social media. His mother claimed he was targeted simply because he was a Celtic fan.
Locals have also been tormented with numerous security alerts after the discoveries of suspicious devices, including the hoaxes on Christmas Eve which forced residents in the Heights area of the town to evacuate their homes.
Meanwhile, three people escaped injury after another gun attack on a house in Laburnum Place just two weeks ago.
North Antrim MLA and Policing Board member Mervyn Storey said the community is living in fear, adding that those responsible believe they have the right to impose their terror for criminal gains.
It’s only for financial gain and control. It’s absolutely disgraceful. Mervyn Storey
The DUP politician explained that drugs “seem to be the dominant element” when he speaks to residents about why the shootings and bomb alerts have dramatically increased.
“It’s about trying to control drugs in the area,” stated Mr Storey. “Intelligence would lead us to believe that some organisations that are involved in [the shootings] are also involved in drugs. They can’t have it both ways.
“The conversations we have had with police locally over the last few months would indicate that there is influences being brought in from outside the area and that those influences are of a criminal nature in terms of that very issue - the control and supply of drugs.”
Mr Storey added that drugs are not only destroying families and communities in the Coleraine area, but all over Northern Ireland.
“It’s a blight on our society and it’s disgraceful that those who are in these organisations - whatever banner they want to give themselves - would use that on their own community and see the consequences,” he said.
“It’s only for financial gain and control. It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
It seems to be an accepted thing in some quarters that we just allow these groups to exist. Alan McQuillan
Meanwhile, Mr McQuillan said a recent report by the Independent Reporting Commission, which aims to bring an end to paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, revealed there were “appalling numbers” of people involved in the gangs.
“It seems to be an accepted thing in some quarters that we just allow these groups to exist," he said, "so why aren't we taking out the senior teams of these groups and why aren't we taking out these organisations collectively.
“We know they're involved in murder, we know they're involved in the control of drugs alongside the dissidents, we know they control prostitution, they control some aspects of smuggling and they distort money from businesses.
“They are a complete drain and blight on the community and they destroy the lives of young people but we allow them to continue.”
He added that the criminal groups simply use the cloak of paramilitaries as protection for their illegal activities.
“Why do we need a UVF or UDA?” stated Mr McQuillan.
“They have no function in unionism, unionist politics or anything else, and we should get rid of them.”
Former Justice Minister Claire Sugden said the perpetrators involved in the attacks in the Coleraine area are nothing more than “criminal gangs and thugs”.
“They use intimidation, drug dealing, racketeering and money laundering to oppress the communities they claim to represent,” continued the East Londonderry independent MLA.
“People are scared and often afraid to speak out against these gangs.
“This makes the job of the police even harder because unless there is evidence, both physical and from witness statements, the police cannot charge those responsible.”