Belfast Telegraph

Body set up to tackle paramilitaries making progress: McGuinness

By Michael McHugh

Martin McGuinness has revealed he is "very impressed" by the work done by an expert panel advising the Executive on disbanding paramilitary groups.

The three-member team, created as part of last year's Fresh Start agreement, has met with a wide range of people and is due to report back in May.

Deputy First Minister McGuinness said the work the panel - which includes Women's Coalition founder Monica McWilliams and ex-Alliance Party leader Lord Alderdice - had done so far would be highly beneficial.

"They are a good panel, very focused on what needs to be done," he said. "I'm very impressed by the way they have not just presented their work to us, but the wide range of people that they are engaging with."

Mr McGuinness and First Minister Arlene Foster were speaking to the Stormont committee that scrutinises their office.

Mrs Foster told the hearing that her department had advertised for independent members to join a planned commission on flags, identity, culture and tradition that was due to be established this month. Meanwhile, Alliance councillor Andrew Muir has said there is a lack of political leadership around dealing with paramilitarism.

The North Down representative was speaking after a BBC Spotlight programme revealed how legitimate community groups had been encouraged by the police and politicians to ask paramilitaries to take down loyalist terror flags.

Mr Muir said any engagement with paramilitaries "must be about removing them from existence and normalising society". "Paramilitarism continues to be a stain on our society," he added.

"Those who treat it with a nod and a wink instead of the contempt it deserves call into question not only the entire political process but democracy itself.

"When you prioritise the short-term threat to public order over the long-term threat to the rule of law, you play into the hands of those threatening violence.

"We need an Executive strategy to provide direction for Government agencies and police to help achieve the long overdue disbandment of paramilitary organisations. The focus needs to be put on challenging criminal behaviour such as violence, intimidation and extortion.

"Last summer, I spoke out against illegal flags being erected throughout north Down and beyond, and was met with deafening silence from other political parties. That lack of political leadership is not good enough.

"The message needs to go out from all - there is no place for paramilitarism or its glorification in a new and shared Northern Ireland."

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