Belfast Telegraph

James Brokenshire: Terror groups have no place in Northern Ireland and must disband

By James Brokenshire

Over 20 years on since the first ceasefires, much has changed in Northern Ireland. But, despite huge progress in many areas, the spectre of paramilitarism still looms. Despite many men and women of violence turning their back on their evil deeds of the past and signing up to peace, there are still some in our society who feel violence is the way forward.

These people serve no political cause. What they're doing is committing crime using the cloak of paramilitarism to line their own pockets.

They use intimidation and fear to exert influence within their communities. All this does is holds communities back; deterring investment and jobs and preventing people from moving forward with their lives.

There was never any justification for paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, there is none today and there must not be any in the future. They should disband.

But that, sadly, is more easily said than done.

As I told a group called the British-Irish Association in Oxford on Friday, this requires a concerted effort across society.

We need to look at how we prevent young people being drawn into these groups in the first place.

We need to help communities challenge the influence and legitimacy of these groups.

We need to look at how we can better support people coming forward to give evidence in paramilitary-linked cases.

And we need to ensure that the criminal justice system works to prosecute more of these people and put them behind bars for longer.

We cannot tolerate cold-blooded murder in alleyways masquerading as justice. It has to stop.

One way we will do that is through the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC), which I signed in Dublin yesterday alongside the Irish government.

This signals our intent to ensure that future generations are not blighted by the sort of paramilitary activity that for too long has endured in Northern Ireland.

The IRC is one of the provisions of the Fresh Start agreement, which my predecessor, Theresa Villiers, worked so tirelessly to bring about.

Independent scrutiny by the IRC will help to ensure that the UK Government, the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive are held to account and that the commitments in the Executive's action plan for tackling paramilitary activity are delivered.

The IRC will have a four-member panel of international standing with a simple aim: to review progress towards disbanding paramilitary groups which continue to blight our society.

It will report annually to keep everybody updated on progress.

Its members will be nominated by the Government, the Irish government and the Executive.

The Government is committed to playing its part and has offered £25m of additional funding, over five years, to support the Executive's strategy to end paramilitarism. We're helping fund the Independent Reporting Commission's work with an additional £3m.

And, today, I will lay regulations in parliament to make the IRC operational by the end of the year. The Irish government is doing similar legislative work over the coming months.

A priority in my time as Secretary of State has been to meet victims and survivors of the Troubles. Across Northern Ireland, I've spoken to many people who have been devastated by their loss, whose pain is as real today as it was decades ago.

I've been struck by their desire that, despite their suffering, they want peace to endure, that people will be reconciled and the next generation can live in a society so much better than before.

And it's undoubtedly true that so many positive things have happened in Northern Ireland since the 1990s. I want to build on that as Secretary of State.

One of my priorities is to promote Northern Ireland as a place to do business. I'm just back from a two-day visit to Washington, where there is huge goodwill for Northern Ireland. So many people told me they want to help us secure a peaceful and prosperous future.

There's much to celebrate - and much to tell investors. Our economy continues to grow, with unemployment falling and over 55,000 more people in work since 2010.

And, in the last year, Northern Ireland's exports to the US have increased by a staggering 74%.

Northern Ireland is a highly competitive place in which to invest. We have a highly educated, skilled and dedicated workforce. We've two world-class universities with strong links to local business and commerce. There are great transport links into the rest of the UK, Ireland, Europe and beyond.

Our operating costs are over 48% lower than London and 14% lower than Dublin.

And the UK Government remains committed to handing corporation tax powers to the local administration, in accordance with the Stormont House Agreement.

So, it's not surprising that Belfast is one of the leading destinations for foreign direct investment into the UK outside of London.

This is the story that needs to be told of Northern Ireland today.

Today, a wonderful place to do business, to invest, and to live.

Northern Ireland must be allowed to reach its potential.

It is my dearest wish that future generations will not be blighted by the scourge of paramilitarism. No more families grieving, no more needless death and destruction; simply a normal, prosperous and peaceful society in which everyone is given the chance to flourish.

We have made so much progress already.

The establishment of the Independent Reporting Commission is a further step on that road.

It will help us to build a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland - a Northern Ireland that works for everyone.

James Brokenshire MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph


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