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Unionist MP Tom Elliott slams move to give ex-Provo Martin McGuinness a role in body monitoring paramilitaries

By Richard Wheeler

Published 11/03/2016

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Tom Elliott

Martin McGuinness looks set to have a say on who will sit on a commission examining paramilitary activity after MPs backed a key piece of legislation.

The Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill includes plans to establish a commission on the activity of terror groups.

During the Bill's committee stage yesterday, Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott warned against allowing the former IRA commander to play a role in appointing members to the commission.

He suggested the Policing Board would be a better body to decide on two members of the Independent Reporting Commission, rather than allowing the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make a joint decision.

Mr Elliott added: "The Deputy First Minister was, by his own admission, a senior member of the Provisional IRA, and obviously there is still a question mark as to whether he is still a member of the IRA Army Council."

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson intervened to say: "Would you also accept that on the Policing Board there will be members such as Gerry Kelly who have terrorist backgrounds, and therefore the situation will be no different than what you are describing with the Deputy First Minister?"

Mr Elliott said he agreed there were former terrorists on the Policing Board, although he insisted it was a broader organisation.

"We need to ask the question if the IRA Army Council is still inextricably linked to Sinn Fein, who are in government in Northern Ireland," he added.

But Mr Donaldson said the proposed system allowed each side to have a veto, and Northern Ireland Minister Ben Wallace said giving power to the Policing Board would not be consistent with the Fresh Start agreement.

The Bill contains an amended pledge of office designed to tackle paramilitarism which all Executive ministers will have to agree to before they are allowed to take up their position.

Concerns were expressed by a number of MPs about how the undertaking would be enforced.

Lady Sylvia Hermon, the independent MP for North Down, moved an amendment to require the Assembly to implement an enforcement scheme, but it was defeated by 201 votes to nine.

Speaking during the Bill's third reading later, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the commission would help confine paramilitarism to the past.

"A crucial part of the Bill is to put into effect a treaty to be agreed between the UK and Irish Governments that will establish the Independent Reporting Commission, which we see as a crucial step on the road to the day when paramilitarism is entirely something of the past," she said.

"The commission will promote and report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity and the pain and distress it caused."

Ms Villiers said that plans to make Assembly members promise to challenge paramilitary activity "take Northern Ireland's political parties further than ever before in their determination to see a complete end to activity".

But she added it was a "matter of regret" bodies to deal with the past were not part of the Bill.

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