Paramilitaries still a blight on Northern Ireland society
It is a sad commentary on Northern Ireland society today, nearly 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, that loyalist and republican paramilitary groups show no intention of loosening their grip of fear on the communities where they operate.
There is no longer any pretence that they are defenders of those communities. They are leeches, running rackets, dealing in drugs and shooting or battering anyone who falls foul of them.
Figures from the PSNI obtained by this newspaper show the extent to which they go to instil fear in the ordinary people among whom they live and who they exploit on a daily basis while living the high life.
In the year ended on October 31, between them the loyalist and dissident republican thugs carried out 95 attacks, 60 of them by the former. These assaults included shootings and beatings with a variety of crude but vicious weapons capable of inflicting life-changing injuries.
Loyalists only carried out three shootings compared to 21 by republicans, but however the assaults were conducted the message was the same - cross us at your peril.
The surprising thing is that this level of what is terrorist-inspired violence brings so little response, either from political or policing sources, or from most influential opinion-formers. That, perhaps, is a measure of how this society has come to regard the abnormal as normal.
Most politicians, if they say anything meaningful at all on the subject, tend to point to the paramilitary gangs on the opposite side of the political divide and demand that something is done. There is little leadership within their own communities to deal with the problem.
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The creation of a paramilitary crime taskforce in September this year is a step in the right direction, but it comes at a time when policing resources are stretched and leads to the question of why it has taken so long to be regarded as not only necessary, but an obvious step in tackling a long-running sore. After all, the main players in the paramilitary organisations are well known to the proverbial dogs in the street.
Police will argue they need evidence to act, and the public is reluctant to provide it since they run the risk of being assaulted, and the chances of anyone being convicted for so doing are remote at best. Perhaps the adoption of the tactics used to tackle the Mafia in the US or Sicily would pay greater dividends.