Police to get more cash to tackle paramilitary crime

2010: Masked members of the Real IRA at a Republican Easter commemoration ceremony at Creggan cemetery, Londonderry
2010: Masked members of the Real IRA at a Republican Easter commemoration ceremony at Creggan cemetery, Londonderry

Police in Northern Ireland are set to beef up resources dedicated to tackling paramilitary-linked criminality as part of a Stormont action plan to finally eradicate the terror groups.

The strategy also includes a pledge from the UK and Irish governments to “consult to consider” new short-term weapon decommissioning mechanisms, if the requirement arises in the future.

A mural to the UDA South East Antrim branch in Carrickfergus, painted in 2015. The people that put up comparable murals in Belfast could be eligible for a �5,000 grant.

A mural to the UDA South East Antrim branch in Carrickfergus, painted in 2015. The people that put up comparable murals in Belfast could be eligible for a �5,000 grant.

The prioritisation of PSNI funding to build investigative capacity for paramilitary criminality and the potential of spending more on community policing are among measures outlined in the Executive’s blueprint for tackling paramilitarism.

The 22-page document is the administration’s response to an independent panel report that recommended actions required to put an end to terrorist organisations.

The panel was set up as part of the landmark Fresh Start political agreement struck between the DUP, Sinn Fein and the UK and Irish governments last year. The accord resolved a political crisis sparked by a murder linked to the Provisional IRA.

The panel, which made 43 recommendations, said paramilitary activity had greatly reduced over the course of the peace process, with the main groups remaining on ceasefire, but some members and former members continued to engage in violence, intimidation and other crime.

Six weeks after the report was published, the Stormont Executive has now revealed a five-year action plan to implement the recommendations. The steps will be supported by £50 million, jointly funded by Stormont and the UK government.

The strategy will see:

• The UK and Irish governments setting up an Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) to monitor progress in ending paramilitarism

• Initiatives to prevent young people being drawn into paramilitarism

• Review of police protocols for engaging with paramilitaries

• Dedicated restorative justice fund and potential centre of excellence

• Reform of trial committal proceedings

• l Review of use of bail, to examine concerns people charged with terror offences are being released from custody too often

• Mechanisms to allow prosecutors to challenge certain terror-linked sentences

• Amendment of employment regulations to remove some obstacles preventing former paramilitaries finding work

• Improving former paramilitaries’ access to financial services, adoption and travel advice

• Steps to expedite process of obtaining US travel visa for former paramilitaries

• Review of separated prison regime for those charged with terror offences

• Address educational under-achievement in areas where paramilitaries remain strong

• Steps to reduce segregation in housing and education.

First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister Claire Sugden said the action plan was a “challenging and ambitious” programme of work.

In a joint statement they said: “Delivering this action plan requires recognition of the excellent work under way in communities to support and complete the transition away from paramilitarism.

“It will require partnership working across the Executive and with the UK and Irish Governments, law enforcement agencies, the public, private and voluntary and community sectors, and importantly, with local communities.”