Editorial: Put paramilitaries out of business

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why government has been tolerating those paramilitaries which are still in existence, rather than using the law to put them out of business.

There is ample evidence of the authorities’ indecisive attitude towards these illegal groups.

The Independent Reporting Commission, which monitors progress on tackling paramilitaries, has recommended that there should be “engagement” to help them transition from violence to an unspecified form of community activity.

The Secretary of State has backed this idea by saying he is giving serious consideration to appointing an independent person who would help these groups to make that move. Meanwhile, in his recent Westminster budget, the Chancellor allocated £3 million to help communities plagued by paramilitary activity.

Twenty-five years after the Good Friday Agreement, this government policy might be considered to lie somewhere on a scale ranging from bizarre to questionable.

The government strategy can be viewed as even more baffling with the latest police statement giving a commitment to "dismantling the supply of illegal drugs linked to East Belfast UVF”.

In a recent court case, it was also said that police believe any drug activity in east Belfast is carried out on behalf of, or with the consent of, the UVF.

So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the UVF has seamlessly transitioned from paramilitary group to drug supplier, while the authorities have done little to end its criminal activities.

More astonishingly, the East Belfast UVF now claims that it has expelled 20 “once prominent members” for drug dealing. The alleged expulsions came only after revealing and damaging comments about the UVF. This raises questions about the credibility of the paramilitary group’s statement.

More importantly it also raises serious issues about why government has allowed the current situation to fester, especially since the problem goes beyond the UVF. The PSNI has also successfully targeted drug operations in Carrickfergus and on the Shankill, all connected to the UDA.

Meanwhile, the DUP has been urged to end engagement with the paramilitary umbrella group, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which claims that loyalist paramilitaries have withdrawn support for the Good Friday Agreement.

Drug dealers should have no say in government or politics. Their record is one of death and social and economic destruction. Government pussy-footing with paramilitaries is damaging our society. The only solution is to put them out of business.