Lord Carlile among members of panel to assess paramilitary activity
A former independent reviewer of UK terror laws is among a trio of legal and political experts appointed to a new body set up to assess paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
Lord Carlile of Berriew, a Lib Dem member of the House of Lords, will sit on the panel established as part of the Government's response to the political crisis at Stormont sparked by a murder linked to the IRA.
He was the independent reviewer of UK anti-terrorism legislation from 2001 to 2011 and remains the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, a post he has held since 2007.
Rosalie Flanagan, a former permanent secretary at Stormont's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and Northern Ireland-based QC Stephen Shaw are the other two panel members appointed by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
Unionist politicians had indicated their unwillingness to enter cross-party talks aimed at saving power sharing unless a full assessment of the extent of IRA structures was undertaken.
The three experts are set to assess information held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), National Crime Agency (NCA) and Security Services in coming to a determination.
They are due to report in mid-October.
Ms Villiers said the three appointees collectively had an in-depth knowledge of security issues, legal expertise, an understanding of Northern Ireland politics and political structures.
She said they also had credibility and standing from across the community.
"I am very grateful to each of the reviewers for agreeing to take on this important work," Ms Villiers said.
"They are all highly respected individuals. I am confident that they will bring rigour, integrity and independence to this important task."
In the wake of Friday's announcement about the panel's establishment, talks involving the five main Stormont parties and the British and Irish governments started on Monday.
No major breakthrough is expected in the process until the panel publishes its paramilitary assessment.
The devolved Assembly has been thrown into disarray following the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan last month.
The 53-year-old father of nine was shot dead in Belfast in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison, 47, three months earlier.
Detectives believe some of Mr Davison's associates suspected Mr McGuigan of involvement in his shooting.
A police assessment that individual members of the IRA were involved in the McGuigan murder prompted unionists to remove all ministers but one from the coalition Executive, claiming Sinn Fein was inextricably linked to the supposedly defunct republican terror group.
Sinn Fein has rejected the accusations and on the opening day of the talks Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness challenged political rivals making claims about Sinn Fein links to criminality to "put up or shut up".
Prior to the McGuigan murder, the future viability of the administration had already been in doubt as a consequence of long-standing budgetary disputes, with the row over the non-implementation of the UK Government's welfare reforms the most vexed.
The talks today are focusing on those financial and welfare disputes.
Earlier, church leaders warned that political instability in Northern Ireland is hurting the most vulnerable.
The heads of the Catholic and Protestant faiths in Ireland came together to urge politicians to take a "critical opportunity" to restore hope.
The clergymen said: "Threats to the peace process are most keenly felt in those areas that benefited least from the progress of recent years.
"A long-term vision, which includes effective measures to address poverty and socio-economic inequality, is essential to rebuild trust and advance the work of reconciliation."
The head of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Brian Anderson; Church of Ireland archbishop Richard Clarke, Catholic archbishop Eamon Martin, Presbyterian moderator Dr Ian McNie and Dr Donald Watts who presides over the Irish Council of Churches signed the joint statement.
Last December, many long-standing disputes in the Executive seemed to have been resolved when all the parties and the two governments signed off on a deal titled the Stormont House Agreement.
However, that accord is in danger of unravelling over the welfare reform issue.
At the close of the second day of negotiations in the current process, again at Stormont House, Ms Villiers said: " Today's discussions on finance and welfare were business-like, with an acceptance across the board that these issues have to be resolved. The scale of the task remains very significant.
"Without the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, including welfare reform and public-sector reform, the Executive's budget simply does not add up, posing a real threat to the delivery of frontline public services in Northern Ireland.
"We will be returning to these issues tomorrow."