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Theresa Villiers: Government to set up 'factual assessment' on paramilitary organisations in NI

Both the UUP and DUP will now take part in crisis talk on Monday

By Claire Williamson

Published 18/09/2015

The government is to set up an independent assessment of the "structure, role and purpose" of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State has announced.

Stormont has been plunged into crisis following the murder of father-of-nine Kevin McGuigan in the Short Strand last month.

The subsequent fall-out was sparked after the PSNI's assessment that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder.

As a result the Ulster Unionist Party withdrew from the Executive and most recently Peter Robinson stepped aside as First Minister.

The DUP has unsuccessfully sought twice to have the Assembly adjourned as they said it could not be "business as usual" and instead wanted to focus on crunch talks surrounding the political ramifications following the murder of the former IRA man.

Today the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers announced the assessment will be "independently reviewed" and checked by three individuals who she will appoint.

Theresa Villiers said: "I am announcing today that the Government has commissioned a factual assessment from the UK security agencies and the PSNI on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.

"This assessment will be independently reviewed and checked by three individuals who I will appoint.

"Their names will be announced early next week.

"This assessment will be published by mid-October and will be available to inform the parties’ discussions and conclusions in the cross party talks."

Secretary of State: Full statement on announcement of paramilitary organisations assessment in Northern Ireland

As a result, both the UUP and DUP have said they will take part in the crisis talks on Monday.


DUP leader Peter Robinson said an assessment of paramilitary organisations, similar to that carried out by the Independent Monitoring Commissions, was needed.

DUP to take part in talks: Peter Robinson statement in full  

Mr Robinson said: "This will inform parties in a more comprehensive way than what the chief constable did in his press conference.

"We know what the dissident republican position. We now need to know where each of paramilitary groups are at.

"To be fair to the chief constable he did give some idea of the modus operandi of the IRA.

"We need a comprehensive assessment of exactly what they are doing."

 

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PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton welcomed the announcement.

He said: "The PSNI will provide full co-operation and support to all the measures that have been outlined.

"Organised crime has a disproportionate effect on our most vulnerable communities and we welcome the clear focus on this issue.

"PSNI will continue to build on our work with the Organised Crime Taskforce, An Garda Siochana (Irish police) and our other partner agencies to tackle organised criminality.

"We welcome the independently reviewed assessment of paramilitary organisations announced by the Secretary of State and PSNI will play our part in assisting in this process."

Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Pleased that unionist leaders will be present for vital, inclusive talks on Monday."

The Sinn Fein MLA said: "Sinn Féin is committed to pursuing our goals through peaceful and democratic means and is entering these talks on the firm and sole basis of our electoral mandate. 

“We have a burning duty to achieve a resolution to the outstanding issues from Stormont House and other agreements and a workable budget, which enables the Assembly to protect public services and grow the economy.

“We will work with the other parties to tackle the issue of armed groups, which want to drag us back to the past including active unionist paramilitaries and armed republican dissidents, and organised criminals who are a blight on the community.”  

Ms Villiers said on Monday the intensive talks with the five political parties with continue.

She said: "The UK Government is determined to play our part in helping to build a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger and more united.

"The full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement is central to making progress towards those objectives. The Agreement represented a good deal for Northern Ireland.

"Recent events have also highlighted the continuing impact and legacy of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. This too needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.

"The fallout has damaged political relationships making it more difficult for meaningful talks to begin. The public concern about continuing paramilitary activity and involvement of paramilitaries in criminality has been raised by all the five main Northern Ireland parties and in Parliament in response to my recent statement."

The Secretary of State said the measures set out are intended to "inform and assist the Northern Ireland parties in grappling with the difficult issues on the talks agenda next week".

The current deadlock prompted DUP leader Peter Robinson to resign all ministers except for Arlene Foster who will continue as finance minister during the ongoing Stormont crisis.

The DUP are undergoing a cycle of renominating ministers within a week, and resigning again in a bid to protect the roles being taken by other parties.

Under the rules of Stormont's mandatory coalition Executive, if a minister is not renominated within seven days the position is reallocated to another party.

Mr Robinson has stepped aside as First Minister and Mrs Foster is acting up in the interim.

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