Lack of decision-making in North 'increases the threat of terrorism'
Paramilitarism is a continued threat in the North and the absence of political decision-making there is a major impediment to progress, a new report has concluded.
The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) yesterday published its first report looking at the political situation in the six counties.
"Paramilitarism is a residual legacy of the long conflict and remains a stark reality of life in Northern Ireland," it said.
"The major and obvious impediment to the task of full implementation of … provisions on ending paramilitarism is the continued absence of political decision-making in Northern Ireland for close to two years.
"This has had an adverse impact on the implementation process."
In some communities, there was a sense of fear and anger about the continuing coercive control exercised by paramilitaries, and a strong desire to be rid of such coercion, it said.
The commission was established in 2015 by an international agreement between the governments of Ireland and the UK.
It was set up under the terms of the Fresh Start Agreement under which the two governments and the Northern Ireland Executive recommitted themselves to bringing an end to paramilitarism once and for all.
"In this first report, we provide our analysis of what we have seen and heard, and the potential that the Fresh Start measures have for transformation," its authors said. "We make clear that it is unacceptable that paramilitarism continues to exist in Northern Ireland.
"The continuation of paramilitary-style attacks and assaults, while declining in general terms, is reprehensible and must stop."
The report considered the complex reasons why the problem persists, and attached importance to the situation of victims of paramilitary violence.
It welcomed a "good start overall" on the implementation of 43 recommendations from a three-person panel included in an executive action plan on tackling paramilitary activity.
"However, there continues to be a number of areas where in our view not enough is being done, or not being done quickly enough."
The three panel members were former Alliance leader John Alderdice, former Women's Coalition politician Professor Monica McWilliams, and solicitor John McBurney.
Among its recommendations was allowing for a period where "residual weapons" could be decommissioned.
"We are under no illusion about the scale of what is involved in achieving the goal of ending paramilitarism but we believe that in this Fresh Start process, there is a credible pathway towards it."
In August 2017, the commission was set up to oversee the implantation of those recommendations. The commissioners include Mr McBurney and Prof McWilliams, along with Irish-government nominee Tim O’Connor and Mitchell Reiss, who was nominated by the UK Government.
It came as DUP MP Sammy Wilson ramped up rhetoric about the situation north of the Border, referencing British Prime Minister Theresa May and the army.
"Theresa May has to stand by the armed forces and she has to defy and stand up against those people, especially on the Republican side, in Northern Ireland who are trying to rewrite history," he said, speaking on the BBC 'Good Morning Ulster' programme.
"To give the impression ... that the main protagonists in the terrorist campaign, and which people suffered for over 30 years, was the British government rather than the terrorists who skulked behind hedges and blew up unarmed individuals when they were going about their shopping.
"And I think she has got to make sure there is no arrangement put in place which allows republicans to rewrite history of Troubles," he said.
He was responding to plans to investigate military veterans accused of Troubles crimes.