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Paramilitary Groups: Disbandment

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 17th October 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 2:15 pm, 17th October 2016

4. Mr T Buchanan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline the progress made on the disbandment of paramilitary groups. (AQO 464/16-21)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

In July 2016, the Executive published an action plan, 'Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality, and Organised Crime', which set out the measures that we will take to implement the panel's recommendations. Work is under way to take forward a number of measures this year and to develop detailed costs of programmes to be put in place from 2017-18 onwards.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. Will he advise the House whether he is satisfied that enough is being done to rid our society of these paramilitary groups?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The fact that we dealt with this in the Fresh Start Agreement and came to an agreement on how we need to move forward, with the support of the Irish and British Governments and, of course, the PSNI and the Garda Síochána, means that it is clear that we accepted that more needed to be done. I laid before the Assembly today exactly what plans we have put in place: the establishment of a four-person independent reporting commission. We will contribute two names to that; the Irish and British Governments will contribute two names. That is a determined effort by us, as a Government, to work collaboratively with everybody who agrees with us that paramilitarism, criminality and criminal gangs are a scourge on our society. We are absolutely determined to continue with this work in the belief that, ultimately, those who are in favour of peaceful and democratic processes will prevail over those who, through their criminality, try to undermine the potential of our society to deliver for themselves.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

What thought has been given to sanctions for any group that fails to disband by the end of the lifetime of this strategy?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

These are all matters that we will deal with in the time ahead. Consideration has been given, at every stage, to how we will deal with that. In the past, sanctions did not work. The only real sanction, when dealing with groups still committed to criminality and violence, is the will of the community, working with the Government, the PSNI and the gardaí in the South. We need to ensure that the ultimate sanction is one that puts us in the driving seat as opposed to those who are still involved in these activities. I have considerable confidence that the implementation of the strategy on tackling paramilitarism and criminality can work through the collaborative approach. That is the ultimate sanction.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

In a leaked version of the study commissioned by OFMDFM on investigating links in achievement and deprivation (ILiAD), there were findings that continuing paramilitary influence in our communities is having a corrosive impact on disadvantaged communities, creating negative role models through people prospering outside of regular education. Why did OFMDFM sit on the publication of that report since approximately December 2015? Given the significance of the findings, when can we expect publication of the report?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

When we agreed to establish a three-person panel to put in place a strategy to bear down on criminality in all areas, including areas of disadvantage, it was in the sure knowledge that those on the group — and I think that Lord Alderdice, John McBurney and Monica McWilliams did wonderful work — clearly identified in their work the issues that the Member referred to. We are dealing with it in a much more comprehensive fashion through trying to implement the findings of the three-person panel.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

What credibility have the Executive in purporting to promote the disbandment of paramilitary organisations when the deputy First Minister still denies the findings of last year's Government panel that his IRA still has its structures — though reduced — and is still controlled by an army council? If half the Government deny the existence of one of the primary paramilitary organisations of our day, what credibility is there in pretending there is a policy geared at disbandment?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

Worse still is the pretence that there is an IRA when, quite clearly, the IRA has long-since left the stage and handed over the responsibility for the politics of the North of Ireland to the 108 Members in the House. We have loads of credibility, and it was tested at the election just a few short months ago, along with the Member's credibility. He was returned by himself; I was returned with 28 Members, and the DUP with many more.