The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers has announced she has commissioned a report into the structure and purpose of paramilitary organisations.
The assessment will be gathered via information from security agencies and the PSNI and will be published in the middle of next month and will be used to inform political parties taking part in cross-party talks in an attempt to alleviate the current political impasse at Stormont.
In a statement, she said she is to establish a fund to help agencies tackle organised crime associated with paramilitary groups.
The move comes after the political fallout over the murder of former Provisional IRA man Kevin McGuigan in Belfast. The killing is reputed to have been linked to the earlier shooting of a Belfast Commander of the IRA, Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison.
The alleged involvement of the Provisional IRA in the killing of Mr McGuigan and the assessment of the PSNI that members of the organisation were involved in the murder led to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) withdrawing its Minister from the Stormont Executive. Subsequently the political process in the North has been plunged into crisis with Unionist demands that there is a clear definition of the remaining existence of the IRA. The UUP in particular have said that their involvement in cross party talks to resolve the situation hinges upon an investigation into the continued existence of the republican paramilitary group.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has admitted that she was aware that the IRA still existed in some format and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton whilst admitting the organisation still existed in some manner has said he believes they are not on a ‘war footing’.
The statement from Theresa Villiers released by the Northern Ireland Office runs as follows: “On Monday we plan to press ahead with intensive talks involving the five main Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government on matters for which they are responsible. The UK Government is determined to play our part in helping to build a Northern Ireland where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger and more united. The full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement is central to making progress towards those objectives. The Agreement represented a good deal for Northern Ireland.
“Recent events have also highlighted the continuing impact and legacy of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. This too needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency. The fallout has damaged political relationships making it more difficult for meaningful talks to begin. The public concern about continuing paramilitary activity and involvement of paramilitaries in criminality has been raised by all the five main Northern Ireland parties and in Parliament in response to my recent statement.
“The measures set out below are intended to inform and assist the Northern Ireland parties in grappling with the difficult issues on the talks agenda next week.
“I am announcing today that the Government has commissioned a factual assessment from the UK security agencies and the PSNI on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. This assessment will be independently reviewed and checked by three individuals who I will appoint. Their names will be announced early next week. This assessment will be published by mid-October and will be available to inform the parties’ discussions and conclusions in the cross party talks.
“Over recent days, I have discussed with all five main Northern Ireland parties their determination to redouble efforts to tackle links between paramilitary organisations and organised crime. This is also a key concern of the Irish government.
“The Government strongly supports the excellent work of Justice Minister, David Ford’s Organised Crime Task Force in Northern Ireland. This brings together the PSNI, HMRC, NCA, and other partners, focusing their efforts to address organised crime in all its forms in Northern Ireland, including where paramilitary organisations are involved. I pay tribute to all those organisations for the outstanding work they do in protecting the community. I know that during next week’s talks, all the five Northern Ireland parties intend to discuss what more can be done to strengthen those efforts. The UK Government is committed to doing all we can to support, and work with, those involved in the fight against organised crime in Northern Ireland.
“To that end, I want to explore with urgency what further support we can give them through the relevant bodies for which we have responsibility, such as HMRC and the National Crime Agency. I also intend to establish dedicated funding aimed at increasing the capability of agencies working to tackle criminality and organised crime associated with paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. It will support agencies to enhance specialist capabilities such as forensic accounting to strengthen their capacity to seize criminal assets.
“Lastly, I am planning to discuss with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister and the Irish Justice Minister how we can work best together in our efforts to tackle cross border crime. Minister Fitzgerald and Minister Flanagan have both reiterated the determination of the Irish Government to deal as effectively as possible with cross border crime and to build on the high levels of co-operation which already exist. I would value the opportunity to work with ministers on both sides of the border to ensure the most efficient use of our collective resource to tackle organised criminals operating in both jurisdictions.”