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UK proposes new body to monitor paramilitary activities


Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Steve Humphreys

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

A new body to monitor paramilitarism in Northern Ireland is one of the likely outcomes from talks aimed at saving the Stormont Assembly, Theresa Villiers has indicated.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that the British government will give "serious consideration" to establishing a mechanism similar to the Independent Monitoring Commission, which assessed the status of paramilitary s tructures during the peace process.

Ms Villiers addressed the House of Commons on the political crisis at Stormont sparked by the murders of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan and the alleged re-emergence of the Provisional IRA.

She told MPs the political situation was "very grave", and relations between the Northern Ireland parties had "almost completely broken down".

Ms Villiers said no one wanted to wind back the clock and return to direct rule from Westminster.

Sinn Féin insists the IRA has gone away and has accused the DUP and Ulster Unionists of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.

The UUP has quit the administration and the DUP has pulled four of its five ministers out.

Ms Villiers told the Commons the two "brutal" murders had brought into "sharp focus" the problems around the continued existence of paramilitary organisations.

"The Government is clear that paramilitary organisations have no place in a democratic society," she said.

"They were never justified in the past, they are not justified now, and we all need to work together to find a way to bring to an end this continuing blight on Northern Ireland society.

"For example, serious consideration needs to be given to whether the time is right to re-establish a body along the lines of the Independent Monitoring Commission."

She said any new body would need to be done with the consensus of the main parties.

"The British government will also consider whether there is more that we can do to support efforts to tackle organised crime and cross-border crime in Northern Ireland."

Ms Villiers said the UK government would continue to hear representations from the region's politicians in the days ahead to "ensure all parties can engage" in the talks process.

In response, DUP leader Peter Robinson indicated his party would wait for this exercise to be completed before making a decision regarding negotiations.

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said there should be "no delays or preconditions" in beginning all-party talks.

Ms Villiers said that she expected UK Prime Minister David Cameron would make a visit to Northern Ireland.

Irish Independent