Time to go, terror gangs told as new watchdog is set up
The time has come for republican and loyalist paramilitary groups to disband, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has insisted.
Writing exclusively in the Belfast Telegraph today, the Conservative minister, who replaced Theresa Villiers, says there is no justification for paramilitaries - and never has been.
"These people serve no political cause. What they're doing is committing crime using the cloak of paramilitarism to line their own pockets," he states.
His comments come after the British and Irish Governments moved ahead with establishing the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC), which will give an annual update on paramilitary activity.
As revealed last week, the commission - part of the Fresh Start deal reached by the DUP and Sinn Fein at Stormont almost a year ago - will be operational by the end of 2016.
The Secretary of State formally signed a treaty with the Republic's Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan in Dublin yesterday.
"This signals our intent to ensure that future generations are not blighted by the sort of paramilitary activity that for too long has endured in Northern Ireland," he says in today's article.
With members of the new Victims' Forum being announced today, Mr Brokenshire says he has made it a priority since his appointment to meet survivors of the Troubles.
"Across Northern Ireland, I've spoken to many people who have been devastated by their loss, whose pain is as real today as it was decades ago," he says. "I've been struck by their desire that, despite their suffering, they want peace to endure, that people will be reconciled and the next generation can live in a society so much better than before."
Mr Brokenshire says his "dearest wish" is that future generations in the province "will not be blighted by the scourge of paramilitarism".
"We have made so much progress already," he writes.
"The establishment of the Independent Reporting Commission is a further step on that road."
The Government has offered £25m of additional funding over the next five years to support the Stormont Executive's strategy aimed at ending paramilitarism, along with a further £3m for the IRC.
It is to have four members - one each nominated by London and Dublin, and two nominated by the Executive.
They will make recommendations to Stormont for action to tackle paramilitaries.
Mr Flanagan said it was "another landmark day for Northern Ireland" and "an important step in implementing the Fresh Start Agreement provisions to eliminate paramilitarism and tackle organised crime".
The two ministers also discussed the impasse over efforts to establish new mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, and the implications of the Brexit referendum result for Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of their talks, the Secretary of State refused to be drawn on whether the UK will pull out of the EU customs union - which many observers say will force the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But he suggested a solution could be created around the common travel area, a decades-old agreement between both countries which allows Irish and British citizens to cross internal borders without controls.