Kevin McGuigan murder: Shadow of the gun must be eclipsed from politics for good
The brutal assassination of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan in Belfast's Short Strand area is a stark reminder of the imperfect peace that exists in Northern Ireland. It is almost exactly 21 years since the IRA announced its first ceasefire - a complete cessation of all military operations, as the statement put it - but we have yet to see the shadow of the gun disappear completely.
While the peace process has been heralded as a triumph for a province that suffered more than 30 years of horrific violence which brought it to the brink of all-out civil war, it is symptomatic of our enduring mindset that there is no real shock at this latest ruthless killing.
Had it happened elsewhere in the UK, there would have been outrage at what has all the hallmarks of a carefully planned paramilitary operation. The public perception is that it was a revenge killing for the equally callous murder of another IRA veteran, Gerard 'Jock' Davison, in the city some months ago.
Assertions that there was no republican involvement in Wednesday night's killing have been met with public scepticism, for the road to peace has been pitted with false dawns. Eighteen months after the first IRA ceasefire republicans detonated huge bombs in England and carried out murderous shootings, before another ceasefire in 1997.
The Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 carried the promise of cementing peace, but it was 2005 before the IRA again promised an end to its campaign and began the process of decommissioning.
Yet, it is evident that guns are available and that republicans are prepared to use violence, whether for a dissident campaign or ad hoc retaliations. Indeed, in 2005 republicans were blamed for the killing of another Short Strand man, Robert McCartney.
Of course, Northern Ireland is a much better place now than before republicans and loyalists pledged to give up violence, but there is still a sense that certain acts occur without sanction - that no one really wants to rock the peace boat too violently.
But public or political patience should not be stretched too far. First Minister Peter Robinson has warned that this latest killing - if Provisional IRA involvement can be proven rather than merely suspected - could have implications for the power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein. It seems incredible that two decades on from the first IRA ceasefire there should still be question marks over the sustainability of the Stormont institutions.
There are great dangers in the constant cliff-hanging disputes that mark power-sharing. There are vicious terrorist remnants in Northern Ireland who would be all too willing to step into any political vacuum, and it is clear that there can be no equivocation from any party over acts of violence.
We must find a way to make the gun redundant in politics here and bring a mindset of zero tolerance to terrorism in all its forms. The peace process has been glacial in the speed of its development. We need to quicken the pace.