Leading article

Alarming rise in paramilitary attacks

Next year will mark a number of significant anniversaries which will rightly cause us to reflect on the events of our past and what progress has been made since those difficult times.

In political terms, the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 will be a source of considerable comment, analysis and discussion, which will inevitably be heavily informed by the state of our devolved structures.

Certainly, as we approach this landmark date it is hugely disappointing that the Stormont assembly has been in limbo for almost a year with no great sense of urgency among the main parties to see it restored.

The disclosure by DUP MP Gregory Campbell yesterday that talks are set to get under way again is unlikely to be greeted with any feeling of optimism given the failure to reach agreement during the talks process of the past year.

But there are important reasons for the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement to prevail, for politicians to work for the common good and for the democratic process to be meaningful and transformative.

It must be acknowledged there have been huge strides forward in building a peaceful and stable society.

Anyone who lived through our troubled past will know that life is very different today.

But we still have the remnants of a Troubles mindset in some small sections of society, those who believe that disputes are resolved through arbitrary violence, not the rule of law.

At this stage of the peace process, almost twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we should be seeing paramilitary activity dwindle to nothing, the malign influence of these groups in loyalist and nationalist districts a distant memory.

Sadly, that is not the case and it is depressing to learn that paramilitary-style attacks, far from declining, are actually at an eight-year high.

According to PSNI figures, there were 94 shootings and assaults linked to loyalist and dissident republican paramilitaries in the eleven months up to December.

Gun attacks were up by a third with dissident republicans being blamed for the majority of this type of incident.

Even over the Christmas period these armed thugs were at their work, shooting an 18-year-old in Belfast and a man in Derry.

As we know, these barbaric practices have caused life-changing injuries and even death, so it is not a minor issue of little consequence.

Against the backdrop of political stalemate, the fact that paramilitary attacks are on the rise must be regarded as an alarming development.

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