Time for Northern Ireland terrorists to get off the backs of the people and leave the stage for good
Intervening directly and indirectly on behalf of those threatened with paramilitary punishments has been something we've been doing since 1989.
We all hoped that "ceasefires" and a "peace agreement" would have led to the end of paramilitary control within communities that suffered most during the Troubles, but how wrong we were. Paramilitary organisations that claim to be defenders of their communities continue to inflict pain and even death on those communities. It makes me wonder if these inner city working class communities are part of the "price for peace", alongside Government funds.
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I fully recognise that some "combatants" on both sides of "the conflict" are genuinely working for a better Northern Ireland, yet the sad reality is there are still those on both sides who are determined to continue to inflict their reign of terror on our communities, including punishment beatings that leave victims mentally and physically scarred for life, causing some to leave the very community they were brought up in, while others are tragically driven to suicide. I know, because I have taken some of the funeral services, and have visited some who have been brutalised.
Paramilitaries have still not gone away. Some might have morphed like a caterpillar into a butterfly, but the butterfly is still the same old caterpillar with wings. Surely it's time. It's time to move on. It's time to move forward. It's time to stop playing the ex-prisoner and the ex-combatant card. It's time to do more than just grow wings. It's time to leave the scene.
During the early part of 2018 we will be fronting an outreach called 39+1 (40 days from February 19 - Good Friday) calling on all the main contributors within our communities to support and encourage positive change during those 39+1 days. We are calling on churches, politicians, community organisations, the PSNI, paramilitary groups and drug dealers to promote and support only positive activities during these days.
We are calling on paramilitary groups, wherever it applies, to desist from all negative activity, and while we would like to see this permanently, we are asking that this be at least for the duration of 39+1. Desist from any intimidation, threats, punishment beatings, exclusions, extortion and other forms of criminality.
We are also calling on all drug dealers to stop dealing and stop selling drugs during 39+1. I know it's crazy to make such a request, but we're asking nonetheless.
Someone said: "You're daft for believing that drug dealers and paramilitaries will agree to this." I said: "No. I'm not that daft to believe they will, but I'm bold enough to ask." Maybe they will prove us all wrong! For more information on 39+1 visit www.newlifebelfast.org
Pastor Jack McKee is senior pastor of New Life City Church