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New permanent paramilitary watchdog proposed in talks

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/10/2015

Deal: Theresa Villiers
Deal: Theresa Villiers

A new and potentially permanent paramilitary watchdog could form part of a deal at the Stormont talks, it has emerged.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has asked the parties to consider the move, with the DUP in favour of ongoing oversight of paramilitary groups.

The idea follows this week's comprehensive, across-the-board assessment of paramilitary activity by an independent panel appointed by Mrs Villiers.

But a new International Monitoring Commission Mark II would be ongoing, reporting at regular intervals - until the political parties at some point in the future decide it is no longer required.

Mrs Villiers said: "A key element of the talks will be deciding what further process of verification is needed.

"There has been considerable discussion of reviving a body similar to the Independent Monitoring Commission.

"I think that is a useful point for discussion, and I am sure that the parties will be considering it in the coming days."

Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP have declined to comment on the plan but the DUP has given it a fair wind.

Gregory Campbell told the Belfast Telegraph: "The report published this week has given an independent assessment of paramilitary structures on all sides and there is great value in having that kind of unvarnished assessment to highlight where we need to make progress in order that political structures are stable."

Alliance is also supporting a new watchdog but says its remit should be expanded to include ministers breaching their pledge of office.

Their proposal comes after Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP joined forces to back an Alliance motion accusing the DUP ministers of breaking their official pledge by their protest strategy of ministers continually resigning and being re-appointed. As the negotiations - expected to reach the crunch stage in early November - continued yesterday, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the Independent Panel Report showed "the whole Provisional movement is now solidly behind its political leadership in Sinn Fein".

"But that also means that people who are presently in the party have intimate knowledge of the crimes of the dirty war," said Mr McDonnell.

"If in fact the party is not controlled by the army council, which all the old Provos seem to believe it is, then why does the party not simply tell the truth?"

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