WE have no idea who was responsible for the shooting of a man in the Springfield Road district of the city on Tuesday. But regardless of who pulled the trigger; regardless of who ordered the trigger pulled; regardless of why the man was shot: this was another barbaric act carried out by people who are a blight on this community and whose actions stand in sickening contrast to the inspirational work being done daily by so many in so many places to make this a better place for us all to live.

Whether those behind this brutal outrage are a nakedly criminal gang, whether they attempt to draw a threadbare cloak of political credibility over their vile actions, or – as is increasingly the case – they are part of a grim criminal/political nexus, we say to them again loud and clear: you are not wanted, you are reviled, leave us alone.

Down through the bleakest years of the conflict, when law and order were not just broken down, but hijacked by the armed agencies of the state in the war against republicans, this newspaper stood firm and loud against paramilitary-style punishment when it was effectively the only punishment in existence in many areas of the North. We did so first and foremost because it is a crime against humanity which – if the perpetrators only knew it – leaves a moral scar on the souls of those who carried it out as vivid and lasting as the scars of the gunshot wounds they inflict on their victims.

Less importantly, but crucial in its own way, the dishing out of violent summary justice is self-defeating and unfailingly escalatory in nature. Down through the years history has taught us that people who are beaten and shot by the self-appointed judges of the kangaroo courts and star chambers do not ‘learn their lesson’; they are not ‘rehabilitated’; they rarely ‘repent’; communities do not benefit from the bloody actions of those who claim to represent them. On the contrary, paramilitary justice leaves a legacy of bitterness and anger that seeps down through families, friends and generations, storing up a bleak legacy of hatred, desensitisation, disaffection and recrimination, generating more shootings, more beatings in a nightmare cycle  that has continued unbroken for half a century.

Let us not, however, lose sight of the fact that we have made incredible gains in the near-30 years since the first ceasefires were announced. The shooting and beating of people by faceless thugs continues, as we have seen this week. The targeting of police officers continues, as we saw in the barbaric attack on DCI John Caldwell in Omagh two weeks ago. But those of us who bore witness to the worst years of the conflict must keep hold of the reality that we are surrounded by younger people who have no inkling of the scale and nature of what went before. 

That gain must not only be banked, it must be treasured and guarded. And that means continuing to speak out loudly and unequivocally against those who would presume to drag us back.