Earlier this week, a quantity of Semtex explosive was discovered in Maeve House, one of the seven tower blocks in the New Lodge area of north Belfast. The explosive material weighed 1.5kg — just over three pounds — and had been carefully hidden away. It seems to have been there for quite a long time.
Storing explosives in a tower block is sheer madness. It has the potential to lead to massive loss of life. However, it is not the first time that explosives have been uncovered in Maeve House.
Back in May 2014, around 2.5kg of Semtex was discovered in the airing cupboard of a flat in the very same tower block.
That discovery was described as the largest seizure of Semtex in 10 years and was reckoned to be sufficient to make 20 under-car booby-trap bombs.
We can only imagine the damage that would be caused to a block of flats — and the potential loss of life — if that quantity of Semtex were to explode inside the building.
At that time, a Scottish republican from Coatbridge, about 10 miles from Glasgow, was arrested.
He was the occupant of the flat in Maeve House and was charged with having explosives with intent to endanger life. However, he said that he lived at his partner’s address and that others had access to his flat. Later that year, the case against him was dropped.
I cannot understand the mindset of people who store explosives or prepare explosives in their homes, but it is something that has happened throughout the Troubles.
Anyone who does it must have little regard for the lives of those around them — including, in some cases, their own families.
It is a disregard born out of a fanaticism that regards human lives — even the lives of family and friends — very lightly.
Back in June 1970, Thomas McCool and two other IRA men were preparing an incendiary device in the kitchen of the McCool family home in the Creggan in Londonderry.
There was an explosion and the three men were killed, but so, too, were Thomas McCool’s two children — a little girl named Bernadette, who was aged nine, and her younger sister, Carol, who was aged four.
This was a case where a member of the IRA was working with incendiary materials in the kitchen while his two little girls were still there. Most people will find that almost impossible to understand, but it shows the fanaticism of the terrorist.
The discovery of the explosive material in Maeve House is a timely reminder of why dealing with paramilitarism is such an important issue for us today.
There was the murder of the prison officer Adrian Ismay, and in recent months we have seen a series of gun attacks in republican areas in Belfast and elsewhere.
Indeed, according to a recent report to the Policing Board, between September 2015 and February 2016, there were 11 casualties as a result of paramilitary-style shootings. And, of these, 10 were carried out by republicans.
Since then, there have been more gun attacks in a number of republican areas, and there have also been paramilitary displays by several dissident republican groups, some involving small children.
The discovery of the explosives in Maeve House, the paramilitary attacks and the paramilitary displays are further reminders of why, as a society, we need to put an end to paramilitarism.
Northern Ireland is buzzing with the achievements of our national football team, and the name of Northern Ireland is being linked time and again with good news stories.
However, there is still a small remnant of intransigent, bitter and twisted people who remain wedded to terrorism and criminality.
The eradication of paramilitarism has to be a priority for all political parties and all democrats if we are to build a better society and a better future for our young people. The PSNI, the courts and the National Crime Agency all have their role to play.