A year after ‘The Fresh Start: Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan,’ Willie Hay weighs in on paramiltaries.

Punishment beatings (File picture).
Punishment beatings (File picture).

Willie Hay has described paramilitaries as ‘leeches’ still ‘begging off their own communities’ as the North marks a year from the signing of ‘The Fresh Start: Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.’

The veteran Derry DUP man, known to his peers in the House of Lords as Lord Hay of Ballyore, however, said that “when you talk to paramilitaries, there is a desire to leave it [violence and criminality] behind.”

He made the comments as Westminster’s upper house rubber-stamped the establishment of a new Independent Reporting Commission (IRC), which is being set up to deal with paramilitary activity.

The senior DUP figure pointed out that despite it being almost 20 years from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary organisations still flourish in many areas.

“They are almost leeches to their own communities; they beg from their own communities and create major problems there,” he said.

“We have to remember that they are happy enough to keep their own community in the way that it is because that helps their cause. For me, it was never about when they would leave the stage; for me, it is how they leave the stage that is vitally important.”

The former Stormont Speaker said he believed many paramilitaries want a way out.

“I believe that we have paramilitaries who genuinely want to come into the democratic process. We should try to help to bring them in.

“The police and the justice system in Northern Ireland should deal with those ​who do not want to come into the process.

“When you talk to paramilitaries, there is a desire to leave it behind and come in. It is about how we get them in and deal with them, and then how they eventually leave the stage, but they must be part of the solution in Northern Ireland. We cannot isolate them totally and absolutely.”

He added: “We need to find a way of dealing with this issue. They are a total curse in Northern Ireland.”