THAT up to a dozen men felt emboldened to attend the Gary Haggarty case in the Crown Court whilst wearing face masks proves how distant our society remains from normalcy.
Why the thugs involved were allowed to sit masked in court at all is deeply troubling, as is the fact that it was not immediately drawn to the judge's attention.
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When it was, he warned that anyone covering their face would be removed. Our top judge, lady chief justice Siobhan Keegan, has asked the NI Courts and Tribunals Service to establish what went on, but many will still be puzzled by her statement that she had "dealt with the matter appropriately".
It is difficult to see what is 'appropriate' about this episode within court precincts and around a high profile murder trial. An apology to the families in attendance would have been 'appropriate'.
As for the individuals wearing the masks, well, what can be said? I imagine them meeting in some dingy club on the morning of the first day to receive their orders.
"Right lads, we're to keep a low profile so make sure everybody is masked up." Maybe one of their number – unique in still having a few functioning brain cells – piped up: "But here Sammy, wouldn't it be better if we dressed normal and blended in?"
An enraged Sammy would inquire, "Are you a tout son?" to which the young man would give a definitive "No". Of course, Sammy would already know the man was a tout as they're all touts, off to the trial of... you've guessed it, another tout.
That paramilitarism remains a live issue across the political spectrum is a betrayal of the hopes and dreams of those of us who voted for the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago.
At that time, we were promised all such illegal organisations would start the process of transitioning towards extinction. To facilitate this, prisoner releases were agreed and substantial amounts of public money funnelled into initiatives to hasten their disappearance.
Dr Aaron Edwards, an academic from Sandhurst giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last month, reported more paramilitaries exist now than 30 years ago – a clear indication that things are not moving in the desired direction.
Paramilitaries' motivations have morphed from quasi-political aims into gang-related drug dealing and extortion. This isn't unique as other groups such as the KLA in Kosovo or Farc in Colombia have also used narcotics to finance their campaigns.
That young men are being recruited at an ever-increasing rate suggests a new approach is needed. Rather than financing non-transitioning paramilitaries, we should instead put that money into the prevention of radicalisation with schemes similar to those in Britain.
On the big island there is a government-led multi-agency 'Prevent' programme which requires specified authorities such as education, health, councils, police, prisons and the probation service to combine to stop people being radicalised and joining illegal organisations.
One of the most effective counters to such activity in mainly deprived working class areas would be the provision of positive alternatives in the shape of jobs and education.
Unfortunately, as we remain in a political limbo the voices of hate and fear have free rein, resulting in yet another generation sacrificed on the altar of paramilitarism.
AS the Israel/Gaza conflict erupted I wrote on October 14 that "a humiliated Netanyahu will now attempt to redeem his standing by indulging in the all-out orgy of destruction not only of Hamas but the very state of Gaza".
I take no comfort my words have proved prophetic with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaging in a war not of defence but vengeance. The ethnic cleansing of northern Gaza ahead of this week's land incursion by the IDF saw over a million displaced, thousands of civilians killed and buildings reduced to dust.
The civilians who made the long trek by foot to southern Gaza didn't find a refuge but another Israeli shooting range, with daily bombings proving nowhere is safe for the benighted Palestinian people.
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In my earlier column I also stressed it was "essential we differentiate between Hamas and Palestinians". No such differentiation has been recognised by this Israeli government who've imposed a medieval siege by cutting off electric, water, food and medicines.
Their latest disgraceful demand that even the hospitals in Gaza be 'evacuated' proves Israel haven't only abandoned the acceptable rules of war but also the most basic human rights. In doing so they sow the seeds of the next war.