Belfast Telegraph

Terror watchdog could report twice a year, argue peers

By Nick Lester and Trevor Mason

A paramilitary watchdog could report twice a year, instead of just annually, the Government has suggested.

But Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness - a former IRA commander - will still be involved in choosing who sits on the panel.

The House of Lords also heard the Independent Reporting Commission could act as "a very important escape valve" for events that threaten to destabilise the country's fragile power-sharing administration.

However, it was argued that only requiring the body to report annually was insufficient.

The call for the body to report twice a year came during the committee stage of the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill.

The proposed legislation aims to implement parts of two political deals in the wake of last year's crisis which took Stormont to the brink of collapse.

It includes plans to establish a commission which would take a lead role in trying to end paramilitary activity.

Pressing for more frequent reporting by the body, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Alderdice said: "It's going to take four or five years before you have got a handful of reports to see what is actually happening.

"I don't get a sense that there is sufficient urgency and I doubt very much it will be perceived as sufficiently urgent in the minds of many people in Northern Ireland.

"They want, on a regular basis, but on a relatively-frequent basis, to hear what is happening and what is going on.

"Is it enough to come back only once a year?"

Lord Alderdice - who was a member of the previous terrorism watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission - was backed by Lord Empey of the Ulster Unionists, who said the creation of the new body had reassured people that it would "shine a light" on what was going on.

He told peers: "This commission has the power to give reassurance to people that the paramilitary issue is being dealt with and is being reported on.

"I think it's not an unreasonable thing to ask that that reporting mechanism is brought forward to six months. "I think that could be a very important escape valve for events that may occur which could destabilise the institutions once again."

Responding for the Government, Lord Dunlop said the commission was one of the measures aimed at tackling paramilitarism, which he said had been a "scourge" on Northern Ireland society for many years. But he said a balance had to be struck between it reporting back and allowing sufficient time for progress to be made.

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