MP warns over McGuinness appointing members of body on paramilitary activity

Doubts remain over whether Martin McGuinness is still a member of the Provisional IRA's decision-making body, an MP has said.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Tom Elliott warned against allowing Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister to have a role in appointing members to a proposed commission which seeks to end paramilitary activity, given his IRA past.

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

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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.

The MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made the remarks as the Commons debated potential changes to the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill.

This proposed legislation seeks to implement parts of two political deals aimed at protecting Northern Ireland’s faltering power-sharing administration, including the commission on paramilitary activity.

It also seeks to make changes to ensure Assembly members challenge paramilitary activity and to ensure the amount of UK Government cash required for the Northern Ireland budget is outlined to the Assembly.

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Speaking during the Bill’s committee stage, Mr Elliott said the policing board could be argued to be “semi-political” although he stressed it also has independent members.

He said: “So that’s why we thought it was a good option for the appointment of this process, particularly given the Deputy First Minister has, by his own admission in the past, said he was a senior member of the Provisional IRA and that obviously there is still a question mark as to whether he is still a member of the IRA Army Council.”

Democratic Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), intervening, said: “Would you also accept that on the policing board there will be members such as Gerry Kelly and Caitriona Ruane who have got terrorist backgrounds as well, and therefore the situation will be no different than what you would have and what you are describing with the Deputy First Minister?”

Mr Elliott said he agreed there are Sinn Fein members and former terrorists on the policing board, although insisted it is a broader organisation with independent people.

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Mr Donaldson added the proposed system involving the First Minister and Deputy First Minister allowed each side to have a veto.

Mr Elliott later withdrew his amendment.

Earlier, Mr Elliott insisted brutal killings in Northern Ireland’s recent history have the “hallmark of the IRA of the past”.

He said it is clear professional terrorists have been responsible for murders in the country due to the clinical way they have been carried out.

The MP added Sinn Fein still needs to answer questions about whether it is linked to the IRA’s decision-making body, known as the army council.

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Mr Elliott said of the commission: “The functioning of the body is to look at general paramilitary activity within Northern Ireland and to report back on it and, hopefully, that report will see a move away from terrorist activity within Northern Ireland.

“We have made huge and significant progress over the last number of years but we want to see a total end to that terrorist campaign and paramilitary activity.”

Mr Elliott referred to loyalist killings and the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian before turning to IRA murders.

He said: “We just look to the murders of Robert McCartney, Denis Donaldson, Paul Quinn and, more recently, Kevin McGuigan in Belfast.

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“And what strikes me about these is the brutality and the clinical way that these murders were carried out - the hallmark of the IRA of the past.

“And what we’ve seen is these murders haven’t been carried out by amateurs, these have been carried out by professional terrorists in the way that they have gone about that and what it reminds us of is clearly the IRA and those terrorist organisations of the past.

“We want to bring an end to that and we must not forget that the chief constable of the police service in Northern Ireland in recent times has said that the IRA and the Army Council still exist.

“We need to deal with that and we need to ask the question if that IRA Army Council is still inextricably linked to Sinn Fein, who are in government in Northern Ireland.”

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Mr Elliott withdrew his amendment after it became clear that neither the Government nor Labour would support it.

Northern Ireland Minister Ben Wallace said giving the power to the Police Board to decide two members of the commission would not be consistent with the Fresh Start Agreement.

But he admitted there was nothing stopping the First Minister and Deputy First Minister consulting more widely about the appointments if necessary.

“The Fresh Start Agreement provides that two members of the new commission will be nominated by the executive,” Mr Wallace said.

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“The Northern Ireland Police Board is not however part of the Executive and the amendment proposed would therefore not be consistent with the terms of that agreement.”

He added: “We have taken the decision that we believe that the First and Deputy First Minister are the most appropriate offices to make the final decision.

“It is of course up to them as the leaders of the Executive to consult with all the members of the Executive and indeed more broadly if that is necessary.”