Editor's Viewpoint: Breaking silence key in paramilitary fight
On the day when a west Belfast couple said they have been forced to leave their home of 30 years because of a campaign of intimidation by dissident republicans, we reveal the startling extent of such attacks by paramilitaries throughout Northern Ireland.
George Richmond and his wife Geraldine have endured two gun attacks on their home, had four vehicles burned and every window in their home broken by hammer-wielding thugs. It seems there is no one who can protect them and that is an appalling commentary on the state of Northern Ireland 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and 24 years after paramilitaries said they were giving up violence for good.
Statistics obtained by this newspaper show that is far from the case, with an average of eight families every week being forced to move home because of intimidation. It is difficult for anyone who has not suffered such a fate to comprehend the trauma of being threatened with death or serious injury unless they give up all they cherish.
Ultimately, we are all victims because the NI Housing Executive has to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds to help rehome those targeted by paramilitaries. That is money from the public purse which is desperately needed to fund new homes to meet the homelessness crisis.
For those of us of a certain vintage, the scale of the intimidation brings back to mind the huge population movement, particularly in the greater Belfast area, which followed the outbreak of the Troubles. That led to the creation of single identity communities and the erection of peace walls which still blight the landscape.
Paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican, like to portray themselves as defenders of their communities, but instead they leach everything out of those communities for their own gain. Intimidation is their stock in trade if anyone dares to question their authority and that leads to a wall of silence being erected whenever any paramilitary activity takes place.
The PSNI find it very difficult to counter this activity because of the lack of evidence from the public which would stand up in court. The force's lack of success then diminishes its standing in some areas as an effective barrier against the paramilitaries and the silence becomes more profound.
It must be broken if the scourge of paramilitarism is to be beaten and justice is seen to be delivered.