Belfast Telegraph

Ministers must agree over action plan before anti-paramilitary funds release

Money to tackle paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland has not been released by the UK Government because Stormont ministers need to agree upon a more detailed plan.

Some £5 million from the Treasury is subject to the powersharing administration in Belfast promoting a strategy to combat the terror threat.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "The UK Government have marked their homework and said 'not good enough, so you are not getting the money'.

"There has to be a huge question mark, even if they produce a more detailed action plan that the UK Government approves, that they will not get it spent."

A father was shot dead in Belfast earlier this month and dissidents have been responsible for a string of so-called "punishment attacks" as well as targeting members of the security forces.

The loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has been active in drug-dealing and racketeering in recent years, police have said.

Stormont finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said: "The Secretary of State (James Brokenshire) has advised that the UK Government funding will not be released until the Executive agrees a more detailed action plan.

"The Department of Justice will be progressing this to ensure access to this funding is secured."

Last year's Fresh Start Agreement between the British and Irish governments and local political leaders pledged to address paramilitarism and tackle organised crime.

The landmark political agreement was struck between the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Fein and the UK and Irish governments last year and resolved a political crisis sparked by a murder linked to the Provisional IRA.

A total of £10 million was to be set aside this year to tackle continuing paramilitary activity. Half was to come from the devolved Executive and half from Westminster, the latter being subject to the Executive agreeing a strategy to address continued paramilitary activity.

A total of £4 million of the Executive's allocation has been spent, officials said.

Police are beefing up resources dedicated to tackling paramilitary-linked criminality as part of the plan to eradicate the terror groups.

The strategy also includes a pledge from the UK and Irish governments to "consult to consider" new short-term weapons decommissioning mechanisms, if the requirement arises in the future.

A UK Government spokesman said: "We are working with the Northern Ireland Executive on the implementation of their strategy to ensure the £25 million is used to greatest effect.

"The UK Government is providing the money to tackle paramilitary activity.

"Along with the Executive we want to ensure it is used to greatest effect to rid the community of the control exerted by those involved.

"We look forward to receiving the Executive's more detailed plans in this regard."

A Department of Justice spokesperson said: "The Executive is focused on getting this important strategy right and the Department is currently working with communities and statutory organisations.

"We have not drawn down this money from the UK Government but it will be available at the appropriate time.

"Rather than spending money prematurely, the focus is quite properly on developing a detailed and robust action plan to tackle paramilitarism."


From Belfast Telegraph