Concerns political instability could hit plan to tackle paramilitary activity


Concern is mounting that a £50 million plan to tackle paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland could be under threat due to political instability.

The collapse of the powersharing arrangements at Stormont and a lack of agreed budget could have an impact "on the delivery of a meaningful programme to eradicate paramilitary activity", a leading academic has warned.

The warning from Dr Jonny Byrne - a lecturer at the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at Ulster University - comes as senior police reveal that the PSNI is dealing with a paramilitary death threat every day in Belfast.

"We would receive quite a number of these (death threats) on a weekly basis across Belfast. About one a day," said PSNI Superintendent Norman Haslett.

Mr Haslett said that within the past two months in the west of the city 26 threats were made, many of them to children.

Several of these death threats have resulted in punishment-style shootings.

Mr Haslett said the PSNI is concerned about a recent "spike" in these shooting incidents.

"A child was shot before Christmas and one after Christmas by these criminal gangs who are nothing more than predators who skulk in the shadows and then run away," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.

Mr Haslett was speaking after a family from west Belfast left their home following a threat against their three teenage children.

Last year the Stormont Executive launched a £50 million plan to tackle paramilitary activity in response to the recommendations of an independent panel's report.

The panel made a total of 43 recommendations on how politicians, police and criminal justice agencies could tackle paramilitarism.

However, there is now uncertainty over the future of the action plan.

"The lack of political stability is a concern for any programme aimed at tackling paramilitarism," said Dr Byrne.

"It could have an impact on the delivery of a meaningful programme to eradicate paramilitary activity," he added.

Victims campaigner Raymond McCord said he was very concerned that political instability could hinder any work aimed at addressing the scourge of paramilitarism.

Mr McCord said that he himself received a death threat from loyalist paramilitaries just two weeks ago. He added that he has witnessed a surge in the number of people coming to him for help after they received a threat.

"I don't believe that the current action plan is the way to deal with paramilitarism and I think it is a waste of money. But I believe we need proper resources to tackle this and I am very concerned about where those resources are going to come from without a budget.

"Also, with the political instability, I fear that dealing with paramilitarism will no longer be a priority. And what happens if a government can't be formed after the election? The problem could get further out of control."

Outgoing Justice Minister Claire Sugden said the action plan's "wheels are in motion" but warned that it will be up to the next executive to decide whether it wants to take it forward.