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Lord Alderdice hails 'step change' plan to tackle paramilitaries

By Noel McAdam

Published 22/07/2016

Lord Alderdice
Lord Alderdice

Former Alliance leader Lord Alderdice has strongly welcomed the Executive's new plan to crack down on paramilitaries.

The ex-Assembly speaker said: "This really is a step change in the way that official bodies of all kinds across Northern Ireland address the problems of paramilitary activity and of organised crime.

"(It) enables us to move beyond the transitional phases of the peace process and into a more normal society characterised by a culture of lawfulness."

Lord Alderdice - one of three people on the panel that drafted the plan - added that First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister Claire Sugden had moved with "considerable speed" on the paramilitary problem.

The peer, who was a member of the body that oversaw decommissioning, also explained that the implementation of the blueprint would be overseen by a cross-departmental programme board and a new Executive unit.

Also working on the scheme will be an independent monitoring commission - which is to be established under legislation already passed by Westminster - and Stormont's oversight bodies, in particular the Justice Committee.

Lord Alderdice's praise was, however, in stark contrast to the views of current Alliance leader David Ford, who earlier this week poured scorn on the plan, describing it as "utterly weak".

"The fact the Executive took so long after receiving the report to make public its response did not bode well, and unfortunately that has proven to be the case," he said.

"The response commits many of the recommendations to existing reviews and processes, rather than demonstrating innovative thinking, which is what any action plan seeking to tackle paramilitarism needs to do.

"We instead need a clearer document with specific timescales, measurable outcomes and strong commitments if we are to remove the stain of paramilitarism from our society."

The plan commits the Executive to ending paramilitary violence, while also accepting that this will take some time.

"Ending paramilitary activity is a challenging ambition that will inevitably involve a period of transition - but transition cannot continue indefinitely," it states.

Involving community, voluntary and sports groups in "taking a stand against criminality" is among its recommendations.

Youth groups and schools will also be given assistance to develop initiatives designed to highlight the negative effects and dangers of paramilitary activity.

A total of £50m, spread over five years, has been earmarked for the project.

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