Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson: If we grasp the nettle and address the issues instead of dodging them, then we can get through this crisis

Writing exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph, First Minister Peter Robinson, MLA

This week the independent assessment panel report on paramilitary activity will be published.

The DUP asked the Secretary of State to commission this independent assessment so that all parties would have the fullest possible picture of what activities paramilitary organisations are engaged in and the threat, if any, posed by them.

For our part the DUP will accept the forthcoming report in its entirety. We believe that the PSNI and the security services are best placed to lay out the factual position regarding the activities of all the paramilitary groups and the threat they pose. The role for politicians is to deal with the consequences of that factual report.

We have consistently said that there is no place in government for a party linked to those engaged in murder and other terrorist and criminal activity.

We need to be straight with the people of Northern Ireland - if the report indicates the IRA is involved in or preparing for terrorist activity (no matter against whom it may be) then it would be impossible to sustain an Executive that included Sinn Fein.

It is abhorrent to citizens, so long after ceasefires that the Chief Constable has to report that paramilitary organisations still exist.

It would be unacceptable if the assessment report informs us that they are engaged in paramilitary activity. Some advance the argument - I do not - that paramilitary organisations should remain in existence to manage usurpers within their communities.

But leaving that judgement to one side what is certain, and what should not be contested, is that we must earnestly work towards the day when our society is free of all such groups. It is in that context that the recent loyalist initiative should be welcomed and encouraged.

The only context that merits the engagement of democratic politicians is when they are dealing with non-threatening structures formerly used for paramilitary purposes but now desiring to transition toward disbandment.

If that is true of loyalists and loyalist paramilitary groups it is also true of those on the republican side. The issue needs to be addressed and not dodged.

There are some politicians who believe that it taints the democratic process for politicians to engage in such transitional support activities.

I can respect that view but in real life that stance ensures nothing changes and the problem of the existence of paramilitary groups remains for another generation.

If we are to truly seize the opportunity before us we must collectively ensure that paramilitary activity is a thing of the past and those who refuse to leave it behind are dealt with by the PSNI and other agencies.

For the DUP to reconsider its present ministerial protest we need a report that categorically determines there is no organisational sanction for terrorist or criminal activity.

There has been some common ground in the talks about the shape and direction of steps to deal with the legacy of paramilitaries.

We indicated from the outset that the talks should not last longer than four to six weeks. Some commentators have said that the process has been marking-time in advance of the publication of the assessment report but in reality some good work has been done.

Nevertheless all parties must now up the pace as we near the end of the talks process.

As we move through the gears in the next week or so we need to remember that we are working to save the process. Without a resolution of the outstanding issues the Assembly does not have a future. For my part I am determined to do all in my power to reach a successful conclusion - one that will ultimately cement the progress we have made over the last decade.

I firmly believe that the best interests of Northern Ireland are served by having our own local government making decisions that contribute to a stronger, more successfully country.

We have much to be proud of but now is the time to seize the moment and work to finish the job of moving our society from the difficult and devastating years of troubles and misery to a confident, prosperous, tolerant society offering hope and opportunity.

Already the usual siren negative political voices have been raised attempting to discredit any attempts to reach agreement. They have never offered a realistic way forward and they never will.

I am unapologetically a Unionist and I believe that our best interests, economically, socially and culturally, are best served as part of the United Kingdom but we must also recognise that if we are to have a successful local executive we must work with republicans and nationalists who have a different long term aspiration. Northern Ireland benefits when we work together, whilst respecting difference, for the good of everyone.

The progress that has been achieved over recent years has not been without its difficulties and setbacks.

Much has been achieved but there is more to do. Let us ensure that democracy triumphs and Northern Ireland is not dragged back.


Belfast Telegraph


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