Paramilitary crime watchdog to begin work in NI

A view of the area where dissident republicans left a bomb which was discovered in an alleyway beside Holy Cross Boys' Primary School in Ardoyne, north Belfast
A view of the area where dissident republicans left a bomb which was discovered in an alleyway beside Holy Cross Boys' Primary School in Ardoyne, north Belfast

A new peace process watchdog monitoring progress on tackling paramilitary crime in Northern Ireland will shortly be established, the Irish Government said.

The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) was agreed in 2015 between the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland parties after a number of high-profile republican killings, but the time required to pass enabling laws in both countries meant it has not yet begun substantive work.

The final piece of legislation was signed into law by the Irish president last month.

Attacks by dissident republicans targeting members of the security forces remain “highly likely”, the authorities said, while unionists have expressed unease about the continued existence of the Provisional IRA almost 20 years after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended violence.

A statement from Ireland’s justice department said: “The Governments of Ireland and of the United Kingdom will shortly be in a position to complete the necessary procedures to instigate the entry into force of the international agreement establishing the Independent Reporting Commission.”

The body was agreed in 2015 amid concern over continued violence decades after the conflict was supposed to have ended, fears which had endangered political powersharing at Stormont. The devolved legislature has not sat for months over unrelated issues.

Two years ago Northern Ireland’s chief constable George Hamilton said the Provisional IRA’s ruling army council still exists but was not engaged in terrorism.

It followed the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan Snr in Belfast that year.

Subsequent political talks to repair power-sharing at Stormont focused on tackling paramilitarism.

The outcome was a new international body, created by the UK and Irish Governments under the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

The four IRC members will be former US special envoy to Northern Ireland Mitchell Reiss, ex-human rights commissioner and political leader Monica McWilliams, solicitor John McBurney and former Irish diplomat Tim O’Connor.

The commissioners have met a number of times to carry out some preparatory work in advance of the Commission being formally established.

A statement from Ireland’s justice department said Irish legislation enabling the formation of the Commission was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins late last month.

Corresponding UK legislation was passed more than a year earlier.

A recent Northern Ireland Office (NIO) report said the threat level in Northern Ireland from terrorism remains unchanged at severe, with an attack by dissidents opposed to the peace process highly likely.

It added: “These terrorists have targeted the brave people who, through public service, serve the whole community in Northern Ireland day in, day out, including the police, prison officers and the military.

“PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and MI5 are unstinting in their work to counter the threat of violence.”

It said “numerous” dissident republican attacks have been prevented, often through vital support provided by members of the public.

The report added: “We continue to seek to make Northern Ireland a safer place and to support all parts of the community in rejecting terrorism, violence and paramilitary activity.”