Martin McGuinness recently failed to condemn the 1990 IRA murder of Patsy Gillespie, the Catholic army base worker who was forced to drive a bomb to a checkpoint in Londonderry.
That was terrorism in its purest form – using tactics that would literally instil terror in everyone from the nationalist community who was contemplating any connection to the security forces.
The disgusting template of forcing a civilian to drive explosives towards a target was used by dissidents again yesterday.
It is no surprise that dissidents feel comfortable resorting to such methods to blow up central Belfast when the deputy first minister feels unable to denounce the Gillespie war crime (which it was, even if you swallow the Provisional line that it was a war).
But it is not just Sinn Fein who give succour to the increasingly bold dissidents – moderate nationalists also seem quick to denounce the authorities whenever they move against dissidents.
When the intelligence services offer cash to possible informants, there is criticism of such essential approaches.
When the security forces, acting on good information, detain dangerous people who have abused release on licence – like bomber Marian Price – the SDLP accuses them of internment.
In rare cases that a murder conviction is secured, and not overturned on appeal, it is a ‘miscarriage of justice’.
Even after atrocities that no reasonable person could defend, such as the 1998 Omagh bomb, blame subtly shifts to the police.
And when sectarian bloodshed, such as the Provo campaign, lacks the contemporary support of the community it purports to represent – nationalists north and south – it is retrospectively rewritten as an inevitable, popular and noble struggle.
Of course dissidents are emboldened – they see little chance of serious punishment, and a good chance of ultimate vindication.
Soon a massacre could happen somewhere such as Belfast.
The authorities must get tough to prevent it – and it is to be hoped that moderate nationalists will support such toughness.