Improve anti-terror plan before you get funding, Northern Ireland Executive told
Millions of pounds in Westminster funding for Stormont to tackle the scourge of paramilitarism will not be handed over until the Executive comes up with a better plan, it has emerged.
Stormont's blueprint was yesterday accused of falling at the first hurdle as it emerged the Government has asked the Executive for more detailed plans.
There are fears Secretary of State James Brokenshire will continue to hold back on £5m which ministers are expecting to co-finance their proposals.
Stormont opposition leader Mike Nesbitt said it was the equivalent of the Executive handing over homework to be marked by the Treasury in London - and getting an F grade.
Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir revealed Mr Brokenshire said the funding will not be released until a more detailed action plan has been devised.
That task has been given to Justice Minister Claire Sugden who, Mr O Muilleoir told the Assembly, "will be progressing this to ensure access to this funding is secured".
Mr Brokenshire declined to elaborate yesterday, but an NIO statement said: "The UK Government is providing the money to tackle paramilitary activity.
"Along with the Executive we want to ensure it is used to rid the community of the control exerted by those involved. We look forward to receiving the Executive's more detailed plans in this regard."
Mr Nesbitt said ministers had stumbled at the first hurdle with the Treasury withholding money "as they clearly aren't buying what the Executive is attempting to sell."
In the Assembly he challenged Mr O Muilleoir: "This is an either/or question, is the minister embarrassed that the Executive have to submit their homework to London for marking, occasionally getting an F for 'failure'?"
Mr O Muilleoir said he was happy for the opposition to focus "on minutiae", but he was focussed on "delivery".
Mr Nesbitt hit back later: "The DUP and Sinn Fein already have to hand over their homework to be marked by Treasury when it comes to our Budget, now when they turned in their work on paramilitarism, it is clear that the Government don't think it is up to standard."
Former Justice Minister David Ford said it was proof the Executive's action plan was "utterly weak" and tabled questions asking when the Secretary of State first made his demand and when the new report will be complete.
"The Executive response to the independent report on paramilitarism was first released long after its deadline," he said.
"When it was finally made public, it was full of non-specific language, no timescales, no clear targets and little detail about funding. It was an utterly weak document.
"It is clear the UK Government feels exactly the same. If we are to truly remove the poison of paramilitarism from our society, we need a robust plan to tackle it and subsequent actions from all parties against those still exerting criminal influence over our community."
TUV leader Jim Allister said he was not surprised.
"All too often Westminster has been willing to join Stormont in turning a blind eye to the continued existence of illegal terrorist groups but it seems that when it came to this issue HM Treasury has decided to call time on money being squandered with no desirable outcome," he added.