Leading article

Alarm over paramilitary influence in Belfast and Derry

It can only be deeply alarming when completely illegal groups attempt to exercise sinister forms of control over districts in any section of our society.

Two particularly serious developments in this regard have taken place over recent days, firstly involving a family in west Belfast and then a member of staff with the Department of Infrastructure in Derry city.

The attacks on the Richmond family home in the Dermott Hill area, and on an apartment owned by a relative nearby, were carried out by individuals who appeared confident that they could pursue a blatant campaign of violence in a densely populated neighbourhood without fear of criminal convictions.

It was fortunate that no one was injured when gunshots were fired into the house by a man sickeningly dressed as Santa Claus, and other thugs were later brazen enough to return to the scene and smash every window with sledgehammers.

The final outrage came when the home was gutted after being deliberately set on fire, and police certainly have questions to answer about their sustained failure to provide sufficient levels of protection for the Richmonds and their property, despite being fully aware of the level of danger which existed.

It was also a matter for huge apprehension that road maintenance and gritting services were withdrawn from Derry's Creggan estate for a period over the weekend after a threat was reportedly directed against an employee with a public body.

While there will be relief that that the matter was swiftly resolved, with elected representatives playing a constructive role, there will also be concern about suggestions that the episode had a sectarian background, and it is also unacceptable that Creggan residents were left in a vulnerable position through even a temporary suspension of vital safety measures.

There are strong suspicions that republican splinter organisations are in some way connected to the disturbing events which have unfolded in west Belfast and Derry.

The entire community is entitled to expect that the days when shadowy figures set out to openly challenge the rule of law and order for nefarious purposes are over once and for all.

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