Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Spotlight on our shadowy gunmen

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see just how surreal life can still be in Northern Ireland.

The bewilderment expressed by Guardian readers and BBC listeners in London at how mothers in Londonderry could take their sons to be shot and wounded by the paramilitary Republican Action Against Drugs gang is at odds with reaction here. Inured by years of punishment shootings and murders we simply shake our heads at such events, but accept them as part of life in some - predominantly working class - areas.

Unlike citizens of other parts of the UK we know the nuances of the situation. We know that in areas where the scourge of drugs weighs heavily, punishment shootings are regarded as a community deterrent, even if they patently don't work. The violence, if not condoned, is tolerated. Many people in those areas, even with the advances of the peace process, are still not prepared to inform the police of suspected dealers or users.

The words of one mother who told her son to keep an appointment with those who would kneecap him - it was something that had to be done to save him - sums up the dilemma some people feel. Shots in the leg are preferable to a shot in the head and RAAD has proved its members will kill. Of course there are many brave people who openly oppose what RAAD does and that takes real courage. These are ruthless gunmen, self-appointed guardians of the community, answerable to no-one and revelling in their power.

Derry will be the UK's City of Culture next year and it is undoubtedly damaging to its image for the notion to gain currency that it is a city where gun law holds sway. Perhaps the national publicity given to the problem will make civic and political leaders redouble their efforts to bring RAAD's noxious activities to an end. More importantly local communities must learn to put their trust in the police for law enforcement and the police must do more to earn that trust by scoring successes against the gunmen.

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