It seems like a long, long time ago since there was an atmosphere in Northern Ireland politics that could be recognised as "hope". Twenty-five years ago, in February 1995, the document Frameworks For The Future (or the "frameworks documents", as it became known) was published by the UK and Irish Governments, confirming rumours that a proposed talks process would be built around three strands: relations within Northern Ireland; north-south; and London-Dublin.
The crucial difference between the frameworks documents and the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 (and it was this difference that afforded the hope I mentioned above) was the position of the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups: "The announcements made by the Irish Republican Army on August, 31, 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command on October 13, 1994 are a welcome response to the profound desire of people throughout these islands for a permanent end to the violence which caused such immense suffering and waste and served only to reinforce the barriers of fear and hatred, impeding the search for agreement. A climate of peace enables the process of healing to begin. Everyone now has a role to play in moving irreversibly beyond the failures of the past."
The attitude of the governments - that the paramilitaries had to have an input, albeit through their political fronts - wasn't universally popular, let alone endorsed by all of the political parties.
The thinking, though, was that the imprimatur of paramilitaries would make it easier to construct and deliver an agreement, while also paving a route for the eventual disappearance of their structures, stockpiles, members and influence (often malign and criminal) in local communities.
I can't remember who, but I do remember someone saying that the groups would just become like "old comrades associations", eventually disappearing altogether as old-age took its toll and political/societal circumstances changed.
Yet, here we are, a quarter-of-a-century later, and there are some very gloomy realities all around us.
I suspect that some members of the group which issued the threat may not even have been born when the Combined Loyalist Military Command issued its ceasefire statement in October 1994
According to a report in 2015, "PIRA members believe that the Provisional Army Council oversees both the PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy"; there have been intermittent feuds within both loyalism and republicanism; dissident "armed struggle" republican groups are targeting PSNI/security forces and murdered Lyra McKee a year ago; loyalist groups/gangs are still engaged in very serious criminal activities, a new generation is being recruited into these organisations, and a UDA offshoot from south-east Antrim has issued threats against journalists and politicians. And isn't it extraordinary that this far into a peace/political process a joint statement has been issued by a number of newspapers calling for "the immediate withdrawal of all threats against journalists in Northern Ireland and for the freedom of the Press to be respected and protected"?
I suspect that some members of the group which issued the threat may not even have been born when the Combined Loyalist Military Command issued its ceasefire statement in October 1994.
They will have no personal knowledge of the Troubles. They have joined a paramilitary group for no other reason than the opportunity it provides to line their pockets with cash and their noses with coke.
There were three key votes in the mid to late 1990s: 1996 (Forum elections); 1998 (Referendum); and 1998 (Assembly election). All the 18-20-year-olds who were casting their first votes at the time are 40 or older in 2020.
They're middle-aged now and whatever hopes they may have had of a paramilitary-free world have been dashed. And whatever hopes they may have had of politics being done differently in the future have probably also been dashed.
I've talked to groups of A-level students over the past few years. If you think I'm cynical or pessimistic about local politics, then you should listen to what they think
Some of their own children will be of voting age at this point - or approaching it - so I wonder what advice they will give them if asked?
That generation, born between 1998 and 2002, will also be at, or nudging towards, voting age. My eldest daughter, born in 1998, cast her first vote in the 2017 Assembly election for an Assembly that didn't actually meet until three years later.
A few days ago she asked me about the death threats against journalists, wondering, I suppose, if there was any risk to me.
I've talked to groups of A-level students over the past few years. If you think I'm cynical or pessimistic about local politics, then you should listen to what they think.
So, why are we still plagued by paramilitarism in Northern Ireland?
A number of possibilities come to mind.
There still seems to be a belief in Government circles (and it may also be fuelled by some security/intelligence analysis) that the paramilitaries are 'too big' - in influence rather than numbers at the moment - to be faced down
In both conflict and coming-out-of-conflict societies, what happens at the political centre is usually reflected by what happens on the ground, particularly in specific "community" areas. If the centre isn't working then you can't expect something different on the ground.
If the key political parties are in positions of almost constant stalemate and open disrespect then don't be surprised if certain on-the-ground elements choose to exploit those schisms, usually by promotion of the absurd and spurious logic that "we are still needed, there's still a role for us".
There still seems to be a belief in Government circles (and it may also be fuelled by some security/intelligence analysis) that the paramilitaries are "too big" - in influence rather than numbers at the moment - to be faced down.
What that suggests is a fear in those governing/intelligence circles that paramilitaries on both sides would be able to recruit and stockpile pretty quickly if the political process broke down.
So - and this shouldn't surprise anyone - it is in the interests of those paramilitaries to make it clear that they can put boots and guns on the ground if they think it's required.
It's also worth noting that paramilitarism survives, old structures are maintained and recruits (or even just potential recruits) are sounded out and lined up because there is a very clear impression across broader society that paramilitary groups are actually indulged (and more likely to escape undue attention from the police).
Unionist leaders meet representatives of loyalist groups. Sinn Fein doesn't really hide the fact that the Army Council still plays a role in strategy and decision-making. Newer offshoots seem to be allowed to grow rather than being stamped out and uprooted at community level.
My generation (I'm 64) lived through the Troubles and saw the daily, bloody outworkings of paramilitarism.
My daughter's generation (those born at the start of the peace process) hear of paramilitary activity on a regular basis, although it's now more regularly described as criminal rather than the more accurate paramilitary.
What is often described as the Good Friday Agreement generation (the ones we claimed to be making peace for) have been failed. There isn't much change in how we do politics and the deadly hand of paramilitarism still has a grip in far too many areas and on the lives of far too many people.
I accept that some of those paramilitaries who played a crucial role in getting the Good Friday Agreement endorsed 25 years ago are still doing their best to maintain discipline and deter a new generation from going down the "wrong path".
But the fact they seem to be fighting a losing battle would suggest that paramilitarism won't be disappearing - let alone being wiped out - anytime soon.