Belfast Telegraph

Mitchell Reiss to be UK commissioner overseeing efforts to tackle paramilitarism

A former Northern Ireland peace process US envoy has been appointed to a watchdog overseeing efforts to tackle paramilitarism.

Mitchell Reiss will be the UK commissioner to the Independent Reporting Commission. Ireland has nominated Tim O'Connor, who worked on Northern Ireland at Dublin's Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Northern Ireland Executive's nominees are former Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Monica McWilliams and solicitor John McBurney.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said: "I am delighted Mitchell Reiss has agreed to accept the position of UK Commissioner to the Independent Reporting Commission.

"His international standing and expertise as a former senior diplomat and special envoy to Northern Ireland will provide strong skills to the body which has been established as one of the Fresh Start commitments to eliminate paramilitarism and tackle organised crime."

The chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) last year said the IRA still existed and some of its members were involved in shooting dead an ex-member.

That sparked crisis in the political institutions in Belfast leading to last year's Fresh Start deal, which included plans for the Commission. It was established by an international treaty between the UK Government and the Government of Ireland.

The body will report on progress towards ending continuing paramilitary activity and on the Stormont Executive's strategy to disband loyalist and republican groups.

The UK Government is providing up to £3 million to establish and fund the Commission over four years. It will begin work in the New Year and will report at least once a year until 2021.

The appointment was announced following a meeting at Stormont involving the Irish Government and the First Minister and deputy First Ministers.

While progress has been made in a number of areas a row continues to stymie the establishment of new mechanisms to deal with Northern Ireland's toxic past.

Proposed measures to address the needs of victims and an accompanying multimillion-pound Government funding package are delayed amid a wrangle over the disclosure or non-disclosure of UK state papers on national security grounds.

The package agreed by Stormont leaders and the UK and Irish governments, which includes a new investigations unit, a truth recovery mechanism, an oral history archive and enhanced funding for Troubles-related inquests, will not become reality until the logjam is cleared.

The national security dispute is primarily between the UK government and Sinn Fein. However, the Democratic Unionists are refusing to sign off on the funding boost for legacy inquests until all the other issues are sorted.

Irish foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan, who attended the meeting at Stormont House, said he hoped progress on legacy issues would be achieved "shortly".

He added: "It behoves both governments and the Executive here in Belfast to ensure we stretch ourselves to finding an accommodation on the issues.

"We owe it to victims, we owe it to families, we owe it to communities, and I don't underestimate the challenge but I do believe we cannot continue to stall this matter for the foreseeable future."

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