| 12.4°C Belfast

Tory peer Caine calls for paramilitaries to be 'put out of business' following deaths threats against journalists in Northern Ireland

A Conservative peer has said recent death threats against journalists and politicians in Northern Ireland are "beyond despicable" and has called for paramilitaries to be "put out of business for good".

Lord Jonathan Caine raised the issue in the House of Lords on Monday after loyalists threatened journalists working at the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers last month.

A number of politicians were subsequently threatened by loyalists after condemning the threats.

It is understood the threats emanated from the breakaway South East Antrim UDA.

Lord Caine said: "The recent death threats to journalists and politicians in Northern Ireland from paramilitary groups are quite frankly beyond despicable and have no place in any society that is based on democracy and the rule of law."

He added: "Everyone in Northern Ireland should be able to go about their daily business without threat or the fear of threat and we now urgently need a renewed and serious effort to put all paramilitary groups - which were never justified in the past and have no justification today- out of business for good."

Lord James Younger, speaking on behalf of the UK Government, said: "Ending paramiltarism and the harm caused by paramilitarism is a priority in the new programme for government.

"He will know that these are complex issues and require a long-term approach. A targeted approached to tackling paramilitarism was also recognised within the New Decade New Approach agreement."

Lord Younger said the PSNI's Paramilitary Crime Task Force has had a number of recent successes in dealing with paramilitary organisations.

Lord Peter Hain, a former Northern Ireland Secretary, raised the case of Jennifer McNern - reported in the Belfast Telegraph last week.

Ms McNern is taking legal action against the Stormont Executive over the delay in the delivery of a victims' pension.

Lord Hain said: "She is having to drag herself this week to the High Court in Belfast to force the NI Executive to meet its legal responsibility to implement the victims payment scheme for those like her severely injured through no fault of their own."

Lord Hain said it was "shameful" that victims were not being provided with pensions for the injuries they received.

Close

Jennifer McNern

Jennifer McNern

Jennifer McNern

Lord Younger said: "The key to unblocking progress is a designation of a department to provide administrative support to the victims payments board. The Justice Minister (Naomi Long) has indicated that she is prepared to take on that role and the Secretary of State is working as hard as he possibly can to take matters forward. It is urgent."

Ms McNern sustained horrific injuries when she was 21 in the 1972 Abercorn restaurant bomb in Belfast city centre. Her sister Rosaleen also lost her legs, and her right arm, in the explosion.

The legal action will focus on the Executive's "failure to comply with legislation to provide payments for those severely injured through no fault of their own during the Troubles".

The Victims' Payment Scheme had been due to open for applications on May 29.

But a row over the definition of a victim has meant that didn't happen, and structures passed into law at Westminster in January to administer the scheme aren't in place.

UUP Peer Lord Reg Empey said there was a need for a "fresh start" in tackling paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

"It is now 22 years since the Belfast Agreement was ratified by referendum but yet every single one of the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, plus a few that have developed since, are still functioning. Surely that demonstrates the need for an absolutely fresh start in terms of tackling this paramilitary violence," he said.

Belfast Telegraph