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It's time the writing on the wall spelled the end of the vile terror gangs which still plague our communities across NI


Present danger: the paramilitaries still have communities in their grip, today as much as ever

Present danger: the paramilitaries still have communities in their grip, today as much as ever

Present danger: the paramilitaries still have communities in their grip, today as much as ever

From the mouth of the Chief Constable himself we learn that Northern Ireland currently has around 100 fully operational paramilitary and organised crime gangs. The former, of course, may also be filed under the latter heading.

Paramilitarism on all sides in Northern Ireland remains a nice little earner for the godfathers who wave the flag (various flags) whilst simultaneously raking in the profits.

Over £10m has been spent in the last couple of years on a Stormont initiative to counter the crime lords, including £5m alone on a Paramilitary Crime Taskforce.

A sizeable chunk of the money - around £850,000 - has gone on a campaign to raise public awareness about the damage wreaked on local communities by their self-styled, so-called defenders and volunteer protectors.

Some might wonder why such a campaign is even deemed necessary.

The malign influence of the extortionists, drug peddlers, loan sharks, money launderers, illegal fuel merchants, gunmen, thugs and hoodlums would appear to be pretty much self-evident.

That said, in the immortal words of Corporal Jones in Dad's Army, "they don't like it up 'em".

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As with Al Capone, Pablo Escobar, and various other criminal leeches in history, the paramilitary lowlife like to style themselves as all-round good guys.

Robin Hoods who just happen to have a sideline in illicit pharmaceuticals, intimidation, menace and murder.

So anything that puts a spoke in their efforts in that respect has to be applauded.

Which is why you have to wonder how come paramilitaries across Northern Ireland are allowed to continue to promote their toxic brands.

In a week in which a number of families have been targeted in shameful, but very obviously organised, racist attacks in east Belfast, and after the recent intimidation of Catholic families in the same area, the question arises as to whether more could be done - and more money should be channelled towards - tackling the paramilitary curse.

For a start - a zero tolerance approach to all the paramilitary "branding" of local areas with illegal flags, wall plaques and murals. This is the paramilitary equivalent of their own "public awareness" campaign.

On the one hand, we have Stormont spending big money to spell out the truth about paramilitaries.

On the other, they're being given carte blanche - or in this case, gable wall blanche - to continue their self-promotion.

(And please, spare us the "reimagining" of murals projects. Experience shows that the paramilitaries have a tendency to "reimagine" them back.)

In the wake of the most recent racist attacks, one UUP councillor has rightly pointed out that while the prime victims are those targeted, the damage done to the reputation of - in this instance - east Belfast shouldn't be underestimated either.

And this matters not least in terms of inward investment.

But on a human level it also hurts, and affects deeply, the vast majority of the good people of that part of the city who no more support such thuggery and racist intimidation than people in any other area of the city or of the country.

These vile, cowardly attacks are not being carried out in their name.

So you do wonder why the paramilitary chiefs who head up the organisation responsible (and the police know who they are) aren't hauled in on a regular basis to "help with inquiries"? As the CEOs, surely they bear some responsibility.

The sad thing, the most shocking, vexing thing I think, is that all I've just written could have been (and has been) written at any time over the last 20 years.

The Paramilitary Crime Taskforce deserves our support and I do wish it well. But as shameful as those weekend attacks is this one, sad truth.

Paramilitaries on all sides still lord it over their respective communities unchallenged, undiminished.

And like those swaggering signs on the wall, that bleak reality still shows no sign of being erased.

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