Twenty Years Ago Today: Murders in Northern Ireland

200px-Emblem_of_the_Ulster_Defence_Association.svg An average news day in 1994 features all the stories you'd expect in a world hungry for the least bit of pointless trivia. And somewhere on page seven, buried under all the stories about celebrity anorexics and complaints about the reorganisation of London's phone books, you'll likely find a little bit of news datelined from Belfast, telling how this Catholic or that Protestant was murdered yesterday at the hands of paramilitaries.

The terrorist campaign on the British mainland was a series of occasional atrocities, sometimes preceded by coded warnings that permitted the authorities to evacuate the area in time. Months or years could pass between attacks. Not so in Northern Ireland itself; there, the war kept boiling on from day to day and week to week as the self-appointed defenders of each side shot and bombed civilians or police or soldiers simply to enforce a regime of terror, all the while keeping organised crime under their control so they could keep the funds rolling in.

Today's victims are from the Catholic community, shot dead in separate attacks by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, who were later understood to be no more than a trading name of the Ulster Defence Association, the largest Loyalist paramilitary group. Their names were John Doherty, an engineer who was shot as he slept in South Belfast, and Cormac McDermott of Ballymena, Co Antrim, who was killed by gunmen who walked into his house. His wife was left with neck wounds in the attack, though she survived.

Better things are coming in the next few years for Ulster. Most of the paramilitary groups will lay down their arms, albeit grudgingly. There will be some backsliding, and the real extremists will break away into their own groups to continue killing and bombing, but their numbers will be far fewer.

The situation has definitely improved. But that doesn't bring back John Doherty or Cormac McDermott, or any of the thousands of others who died during the Troubles.