Belfast Telegraph

Brexit could add fuel to the fire of paramilitarism, says commission

Members of the Independent Reporting Commission (from left), Tim O’Connor, Monica McWilliams, John McBurney and Mitchell Reiss
Members of the Independent Reporting Commission (from left), Tim O’Connor, Monica McWilliams, John McBurney and Mitchell Reiss
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Brexit, the ongoing Stormont stalemate and an increase in attacks has made ending paramilitarism "immeasurably more difficult", according to a new report.

The Independent Reporting Commission said there are still "thousands of sworn members" of paramilitary groups.

The majority of these members are "dormant", the report said, but they "provide cover for the much smaller number of members involved in paramilitary criminality".

While there has been a downward trend in the amount of paramilitary-style attacks since 2009, there is concern that the number of attacks carried out increased this year.

"The real issue about the dangers for peace in Northern Ireland, therefore, is not that Brexit itself could be the direct cause of a renewal of violence, but rather that it has the potential to add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism," the report said.

The IRC commissioners added that paramilitarism remains a "stark reality" and continues to be a serious obstacle to peace and reconciliation.

They found that loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for more assaults while republicans were involved in more shootings.

They added that there are 88 organised crime groups in Northern Ireland, 22 of which have paramilitary links.

Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray of PSNI Crime Operations said policing with the community will remain at the very heart of the service. "The Chief Constable has stated he wishes to grow the number of police officers to 7,500," she said.

"To date, working with our partners in the National Crime Agency, HMRC, there have been 523 searches and 245 arrests made against those paramilitary groups assessed as not presenting a threat to National Security.

"So far, we have secured 183 disposals, meaning that people have either been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

"The Task Force has recovered significant quantities of cash, property, vehicles, illicit drugs and contraband cigarettes. This amounts to over £4m of revenue loss prevented, 169 firearms and weapons taken off the streets, 40 vehicles seized and drugs with a street value around £636,000 seized. Over £2m in property has been frozen, £256,000 in cash has been restrained and suspects have had to pay back £477,000.

"There have also been 34 successful prosecutions.

"While the enforcement action is significant, the problem needs a societal approach as policing alone will not solve it."

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Linda Dillon MLA said there is a "clearly recognition of the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to confronting head on paramilitarism/serious organised crime".

"They also point to the need for neighbourhood policing to be enhanced," she said.

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Doug Beattie MLA said it's time to end the continued existence of a separated regime for paramilitary prisoners.

"The bottom line is that they should not be permitted to dictate the prison system we have," he said.

"It cannot be justified."

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