North talks to resume after review of Provos is agreed
Published 19/09/2015 | 02:30
All-party talks to end the crisis in the North are set to resume on Monday after the British government ordered an independent assessment of paramilitary activity.
After conferring with Prime Minister David Cameron, Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers produced the compromise, which offered comfort to unionists without provoking a republican withdrawal.
The key element of her proposals is for the body to assess the state of paramilitary groups following the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
Police say the murder of the former IRA hitman was carried out by other IRA members acting with a criminal extortion gang in what they thought was revenge for an earlier murder allegedly carried out by McGuigan.
Announcing the assessment yesterday, Ms Villiers said: "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."
It was a surprise to some that the gardaí were not involved in the assessment, though one unionist source said MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, could liaise with them.
An additional possibility is that a garda or Department of Justice figure could sit on the three-strong assessment panel.
The Irish Government is backing the review, but only if it is quick.
Ms Villiers also said she would be working with Irish ministers on a joint crackdown on cross-border crime.
"I would value the opportunity to work with ministers on both sides of the border, to ensure the most efficient use of our resources to tackle organised criminals operating in both jurisdictions," she said.
The North's Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, did not think the monitoring body was necessary, but accepted it as a way to get into talks.
"We will work with the other parties to tackle the issue of armed groups which want to drag us back to the past, including active unionist paramilitaries and armed republican dissidents and organised criminals," he said.
DUP leader Peter Robinson, who stepped down as First Minister earlier this month, welcomed the new assessment, saying it was a "first step in demonstrating that the government is taking our concerns seriously".