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Anti-paramilitary taskforce 'in place by end of the year' says Secretary of State James Brokenshire

By Noel McAdam

Published 10/09/2016

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire

The British and Irish Governments are to sign an international treaty to set up a new body aimed at ending paramilitary activity, it has been revealed.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said last night he hoped the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) would be in place by the end of the year.

The IRC formed a key part of an Executive's strategy published after the report of a three-man panel set up following last year's Fresh Start deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It will report regularly on the levels and nature of paramilitary activity.

In a speech to the annual conference of The British-Irish Association, Mr Brokenshire said: "We cannot tolerate cold-blooded murder in alleyways masquerading as justice.

"It has to stop… and these groups must be put out of business for good."

The Conservative MP, who replaced Theresa Villiers, and Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan are expected to sign the treaty in the next few days, coming up to a year after the Fresh Start document, which prevented the collapse of the Stormont Executive last autumn.

Mr Brokenshire told the gathering of almost 200 people in Oxford, which continues over the weekend, there was no justification for paramilitary groups and that they should disband. But he added: "This is easier said than done. It requires a concerted effort across society.

"We need to look at how we prevent young people being drawn into these groups in the first place. We need to help communities challenge the influence and legitimacy of these groups.

"We need look at how we can support people coming forward to give evidence in paramilitary-linked cases.

"We need to ensure that the justice system works to prosecute more of these people and put them behind bars for longer.

"Those engaged in what is often described as paramilitary activity serve no political cause. They commit crime using the cloak of paramiltarism to line their own pockets.

"They use intimidation and fear to power and exert influence within their communities.

"They hold communities back, deterring investment and jobs and preventing people from moving forward with their lives.

"They were never justified in the past, and they are not justified today - and they should disband."

During Mr Brokenshire's wide-ranging address - arguably his most comprehensive overview since taking up office in July - the Secretary of State revealed he had been "profoundly moved and affected" after meeting victims' groups over recent weeks and seeing "the pain, raw emotion and, frankly, suffering that still persists decades on". "They are the ones who suffered the most during the Troubles," he told the audience. "And we have an obligation to do what we can to help them."

His comments came only a few days after Northern Ireland's most senior judge called on political leaders to agree on funding to complete long-delayed inquests into deaths that happened during the Troubles.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan - in his second intervention on the legacy cases - said it was disappointing that there would have to be a political resolution before the resources needed for the investigations could be released.

Mr Brokenshire said he was considering a "more public phase" to give people a chance to have their say.

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