PSNI boosts resources in war on paramilitary-linked crime to end terror groups
Police in Northern Ireland are set to beef-up resources dedicated to tackling paramilitary-linked criminality as part of a Stormont action plan to finally eradicate the terror groups.
The strategy also includes a pledge from the UK and Irish governments to "consult to consider" new short-term weapon decommissioning mechanisms, if the requirement arises in the future.
The prioritisation of PSNI funding to build investigative capacity for paramilitary criminality and the potential of spending more on community policing are among measures outlined in the powersharing executive's blueprint for tackling paramilitarism.
The 22 page document is the administration's response to an independent panel report that recommended actions required to put an end to terrorist organisations.
The panel was set up as part of the landmark Fresh Start political agreement struck between the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Fein and the UK and Irish governments last year. The accord resolved a political crisis sparked by a murder linked to the Provisional IRA.
The panel, which made 43 recommendations, said paramilitary activity had greatly reduced over the course of the peace process, with the main groups remaining on ceasefire, but some members and former members continued to engage in violence, intimidation and other crime.
Six weeks after the report was published, the Stormont Executive has now revealed a five-year action plan to implement the recommendations. The steps will be supported by £50 million, jointly funded by Stormont and the UK government.
The strategy will see:
:: The UK and Irish governments setting up an Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) to monitor progress in ending paramilitarism
:: Initiatives to prevent young people being drawn into paramilitarism
:: Review of police protocols for engaging with paramilitaries
:: Dedicated restorative justice fund and potential centre of excellence
:: Reform of trial committal proceedings
:: Review of use of bail, to examine concerns people charged with terror offences are being released from custody too often
:: Mechanisms to allow prosecutors to challenges certain terror linked sentences
:: Amendment of employment regulations to remove some obstacles preventing former paramilitaries finding work
:: Improving former paramilitaries' access to financial services, adoption and travel advice
:: Steps to expedite process of obtaining US travel visa for former paramilitaries
:: Review of separated prison regime for those charged with terror offences
:: Address educational under-achievement in areas where paramilitaries remain strong
:: Steps to reduce segregation in housing and education
First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister Claire Sugden said the action plan was a "challenging and ambitious" programme of work.
In a joint statement they said: "Delivering this action plan requires recognition of the excellent work under way in communities to support and complete the transition away from paramilitarism. It will require partnership working across the Executive and with the UK and Irish Governments, law enforcement agencies, the public, private and voluntary and community sectors, and importantly, with local communities."
Ulster Unionist Leader Mike Nesbitt MLA described the plan as being little more than a wish list.
Mike Nesbitt said: “We are deeply disappointed with the contents of the Action Plan, which has arrived three weeks late and utterly bereft of concrete actions.
“It isn't an Action Plan. It's a promissory note. The language is full of wholesome promises, but no actual plans. They say they ‘will propose’ ‘will commission’ ‘will assess’ ‘will consider’ ‘will engage’, but how, when and what is the actual plan?
“We are particularly disturbed by the lack of end game for the Independent Reporting Commission, which will ‘have responsibility for reporting annually on progress towards ending continuing paramilitary activity’. That suggests these people will be around in a structured paramilitary manner for years to come. It is time, high time, they disbanded and ceased their destructive activities now. They terrorise their own communities, they put legitimate traders out of business and they stain our international reputation on the world stage. Enough is enough.
“Many communities need the help of the State to get these criminals removed from their midst. We note that £50m is being made available over five years. We must be extremely careful as we ‘support ambitious initiatives aimed at building capacity in communities in transition’ and in developing ‘creative and ambitious initiatives that will support communities in transition’ that we do not promote schemes which end up acting as some form of slush fund or new revenue streams for the very organisations we are trying to put out of business.”