Elliott fears over McGuinness role in commission on paramilitary activity

Tom Elliott
Tom Elliott

Tom Elliott has warned against allowing Martin McGuinness to play a role in appointing members to a commission on paramilitary activity.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers hailed a “crucial step” on the journey towards ridding Northern Ireland of paramilitary activity when a key piece of legislation went through the House of Commons yesterday.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

The Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill seeks to implement parts of two political deals aimed at protecting the Stormont power-sharing administration and it includes plans to establish a commission on paramilitary activity.

It also proposes making Assembly members commit to challenging paramilitary activity.

The Bill today cleared the Commons on Thursday and Ms Villiers praised it as an “important step towards a more peaceful, prosperous and stable Northern Ireland”.

During an earlier committee stage debate of the Bill, concerns were raised about allowing Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to play a role in appointing members to the commission because of his IRA past.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Mr Elliott had warned against allowing Mr McGuinness to play a role in appointing members to the commission.

Mr Elliott added there was a “question mark” over whether Mr McGuinness was still linked to the IRA Army Council.

He suggested the Northern Ireland Policing Board would be a more independent body to decide two members of the Independent Reporting Commission, rather than allowing the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make a joint decision.

But Northern Ireland Minister Ben Wallace said giving the power to the Police Board would not be consistent with the Fresh Start Agreement.

The Bill contains an amended pledge of office designed to tackle paramilitarism which all ministers in the executive will have to take before they are allowed to take up their position and something similar for members of the Assembly.

Concerns were expressed by a number of MPs about how the undertaking would be enforced.

Lady Hermon, the independent MP for North Down, moved an amendment to require the Assembly to implement an enforcement scheme but it was defeated by 201 votes to nine, a majority of 192, after Mr Wallace said the Assembly would be responsible for how any breaches were dealt with.

The Bill will now go to the House of Lords for consideration.