Editorial: Rise in terror threat level on eve of Good Friday Agreement's 25th anniversary underlines fragility of peace

In a worrying development, MI5 has raised the terror threat level from 'substantial' to 'severe', which means the security service believes an attack is 'highly likely'.

It comes in the wake of dissident republican paramilitary efforts to kill and maim PSNI officers, including the chilling attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell last month. Mr Caldwell, who remains in hospital, was targeted at a sports club outside Omagh in a gun attack carried out in front of children, including his own son.

The New IRA has claimed responsibility and a series of arrests have been made.

Another hardline dissident republican group, Arm na Poblachta, threatened not only police officers but their relatives, describing them as "legitimate targets".

Police officers already lived in a state of vigilance, but this has been heightened following the sinister intensification in dissident activity.

Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris announced the increase in the terror level in a written statement at Parliament on Tuesday, urging the public to remain alert "but not be alarmed", pointing out that a "small number" of people intent on using "politically motivated violence" were responsible.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said his officers "will relentlessly pursue" those who seek to "cause harm and terrorise our communities".

Many will echo the sentiments of Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill, who insisted there was "no place or space for paramilitary groups in a modern, democratic society", adding: "They must go."

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson pointed out that the government has yet to fulfil its promise to help fund 7,500 police officers. It is time the necessary funding is made available to help the PSNI to meet the challenge posed by dissidents and criminals.

The threat level had been lowered 12 months ago for the first time in 10 years, and the fact it has been raised again is a disturbing commentary on the continuing malign influence of paramilitaries in our community.

Although loyalist paramilitaries are, at this time, not believed to offer a national security threat on the same level as dissident republicans, they have been responsible for a wave of attacks on homes in north Down in recent days.

There has never been any justification for any of the paramilitary groups which have inflicted death and injury, terror and destruction across the north. They should have exited the stage long ago and the fact they are still active as the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is about to be marked shows how much work is still to be done, and how fragile our peace is.