Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: No place for armed men on our streets

The shadow of the gunman still hangs over Northern Ireland 25 years after the IRA and the loyalist terror groups announced their ceasefires
The shadow of the gunman still hangs over Northern Ireland 25 years after the IRA and the loyalist terror groups announced their ceasefires

Editor's Viewpoint

The shadow of the gunman still hangs over Northern Ireland 25 years after the IRA and the loyalist terror groups announced their ceasefires. This time it is not the dissident republicans who are the focus of attention, but former republican groups.

A number of masked men - one carrying an assault rifle, the others armed with pistols - fired a volley of shots into the air outside the home of former INLA member Martin McElkerney who took his own life last Thursday. He had previously been jailed for his part in the murder of two children and a soldier in a bomb attack in 1982.

This follows a similar display before the funeral of former Provo Peter Rooney by a group of 'independent veteran republicans' - a phrase which does little to disguise their former PIRA credentials.

While they are portrayed as a mark of respect to dead comrades, they have a more sinister intent - to show the community that armed men can still call the shots, metaphorically and literally.

The fact that they can operate brazenly shows that they still regard themselves as the legitimate force of law and order in their areas, even if their actions are unlawful.

That raises the question of what the real forces of law and order intend to do about such shows of strength. Have they any idea where the arms originated from? Were they weapons which were supposed to be decommissioned - and which we were promised were put beyond use - or are they newly acquired arms and ammunition?

If the INLA and 'veteran independent republicans' can lay their hands on guns and bullets who supplied them and who permitted these defiant gestures? Was Gerry Adams right when he once quipped "they haven't gone away, you know" when heckled about the winding up of the IRA's command structures?

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It would be naive in the extreme to imagine that if these two shows of strength took place that other terrorist groups supposed to be on ceasefire do not have a similar capability. And that is a chilling thought.

There should be no place for armed demonstrations on the streets of Belfast or elsewhere and the police and the Paramilitary Crime Task Force should make it a priority to track down the arms and those who use them.

All those who genuinely believe in the democratic process should make their voices heard in opposition to these illegal armed demonstrations.

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