Paramilitary report’s authors met dissident prisoners in Maghaberry

The authors met dissident republicans in Maghaberry Prison
The authors met dissident republicans in Maghaberry Prison

A significant report on finally ending paramilitarism in Northern Ireland is now unlikely to be published until next week.

The report – cited by the DUP as one of the key outcomes from last year’s Fresh Start agreement with Sinn Fein – has been written by a three-person panel which has spent more than five months investigating the issue.

It is understood that as well as meeting the leaderships of all paramilitary groups on ceasefire, the panel – which is made up of former Alliance leader Lord Alderdice, former Women’s Coalition leader Monica McWilliams and solicitor John McBurney – also consulted with dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison.

The panel is also believed to have held extensive discussions with a range of security and crime-fighting bodies to build an up-to-date picture of current paramilitarism in the Province.

It is believed that the report will have to be considered by the Executive – which is not due to meet until next week – before it decides on how and when it will be published.

The panel’s report is expected to make a wide range of recommendations for a strategy to disband paramilitary groups, the implementation of which will be the responsibility of both the DUP-Sinn Fein led Executive and the Government.

However, there are questions as to how those recommendations will impact on the remnants of the Provisional IRA, as Sinn Fein has repeatedly claimed that the terror group no longer exists and therefore is not covered by the remit of the panel.

Last October, a Government-commissioned report into paramilitarism made public that the IRA did not decommission all of its weapons, that the terror group’s Army Council remains and its members believe the IRA effectively controls Sinn Fein.

The security assessment also established that all paramilitary groups on ceasefire retain access to weapons and that loyalist paramilitaries are heavily involved in serious criminality.

Last month the PSNI Chief Constable, George Hamilton, said that the October assessment of paramilitaries still stands as an accurate summary of the position today.

A spokewoman for the Executive Office said: “A Fresh Start commits to the appointment of a panel which would bring a report to the Executive by the end of May 2016 with recommendations for a strategy to disband paramilitary groups.

“The panel met with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on May 23 and confirmed that they were still on course to provide a report to the Executive within this timescale.

“The handling of the report will be considered by the Executive.”