Paramilitary structures must be dealt with, Arlene Foster says
Paramilitaries appear to have retained their grip on some communities in Northern Ireland, the acting first minister has said.
Arlene Foster said, though, she hoped a new report on republican and loyalist paramilitary activity could help the region's crisis-hit political institutions move forward.
Speaking during Question Time at the Assembly, she said: "There are many communities in Northern Ireland, unfortunately, where it appears those structures are still in existence and despite the fact we have had a long period of time under which those structures should have disappeared, they have not, it appears, disappeared and therefore we have to deal with that issue."
A police and intelligence assessment on the level of paramilitarism was ordered following an IRA-linked murder of a man in August. It is due out on Tuesday, Assembly members heard.
Father-of-nine Kevin McGuigan was gunned down in the staunchly republican Short Strand area of Belfast in what police believe was a revenge killing for former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison in the Markets area of the city three months earlier.
Mr McGuigan's 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.
The DUP has since been reinstating and then removing three of its Executive ministers in an ongoing cycle, to prevent the posts being reallocated to other parties.
Deflecting fierce criticism of the DUP's handling of the controversial issue, Mrs Foster added : "Of course, if paramilitary structures are in place that is an issue that will have to be dealt with.
"It is an issue that is not just for the republican community but also for the loyalist community as well. We have to deal with paramiltarism right across the peace in Northern Ireland."
There were some bitter exchanges between Mrs Foster and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister - an arch-critic of the DUP - during the question-and-answer session.
Mr Allister said: "The choice is this: if the IRA murdered Kevin McGuigan then dress it up as you like, massage it as this report may, the minister has a choice to make - is she going to resume full political co-habitation with Sinn Fein that she says inextricably linked to that killing machine, the IRA?"
Mrs Foster cautioned against speculation.
She said: "I would prefer to wait for the panel to actually report before I make up my mind but Jim doesn't have to do that, of course, because Jim has made up his mind already and that is the reality.
"He has exposed himself again that he is on a wrecker's charter and he should wait and see what the panel has to say before making up his mind."