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Panel calls for better resources to stamp out terror groups

Progress on paramilitaries will not be made without radical change, report warns

By Deborah McAleese

Published 08/06/2016

Masked men at the Easter Rising parade in west Belfast
Masked men at the Easter Rising parade in west Belfast
Members of Republican Sinn Fein parading from Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to the GPO (General Post Office)
Members of Republican Sinn Fein parading from Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to the GPO (General Post Office)
Members of Republican Sinn Fein parading from Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to the GPO (General Post Office)
Kevin McGuigan, who was murdered in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last August

Law enforcement agencies need to be better resourced if the scourge of paramilitarism is to be successfully tackled, a major report has found.

An independent action plan on how to deal with paramilitary groups published yesterday warned that if steps were not taken by the Executive, Policing Board and the PSNI to enhance community policing, "it is unlikely that significant progress can be made towards a culture of lawfulness".

Kevin McGuigan, who was murdered in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last August
Kevin McGuigan, who was murdered in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last August

The PSNI was also urged to prioritise investment in its investigative capacity for tackling criminality linked to the groups in question.

In addition, the report recommended that the UK Government better resource the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs to ensure they can prioritise "intensive work" to tackle all organised crime linked to such groups in Northern Ireland.

The reporting panel was set up last autumn as one of the key components of the Fresh Start deal agreed between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

It was tasked with producing a report with "recommendations for a strategy to disband paramilitary groups".

The panel's report said that while it had not encountered a desire among paramilitary groups on ceasefire to return to military campaigns, some members and former members were "still engaged in violence, intimidation and other criminal activities for personal gain".

Last year alone, 88 casualties of paramilitary attacks were recorded by the PSNI, and approximately 1,000 people were driven out of their homes between 2012/13 and 2014/15 by paramilitaries from within their own community.

The greatest threat to security, however, comes from dissident republican groups.

More than 40 recommendations were made in the report to help bring about an end to such violent activity.

As well as the better resourcing of law enforcement agencies, the report recommended that the UK and Irish Governments put in place a mechanism to deal with any future decommissioning of weapons.

In addition, the Department of Justice was urged to look at introducing court reforms to help speed up terrorist-related cases and mechanisms to enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer sentences he believes to be unduly lenient.

The report also recommended that a monitoring body be put in place and agreement on a way forward for dealing with the past be reached as soon as possible.

The panel comprised former Assembly speaker and Alliance leader Lord Alderdice, former Women's Coalition leader Monica McWilliams and solicitor John McBurney.

It held talks with a wide range of groups, including the four main church leaders, and met its deadline of completing the report by the end of May.

Their work followed the Government's publication in October of an assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

That report, jointly drafted by the PSNI and MI5, was commissioned following the murder in August of Kevin McGuigan, who was shot near his home in the Short Strand area of Belfast.

A political crisis was prompted by the Chief Constable's belief that members of the IRA were involved in the killing.

Among the PSNI-MI5 report's findings was that the Provisional IRA's structures, including its ruling army council, remained in existence.

It also found that UVF structures remained in place and there had been some evidence of recruitment.

The UDA, meanwhile, remained in existence but was said to have limited control over members' activities.

Belfast Telegraph

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