Paramilitarism remains a stark reality in Northern Ireland, a report has found.
The latest publication by the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) sets out how the ongoing political vacuum, Brexit uncertainty and an increase in attacks has made ending paramilitarism “immeasurably more difficult”.
The second report from the IRC on progress towards ending paramilitary activity in the region comes after a year which saw several murders.
These include the killing of journalist Lyra McKee by dissident republicans in Londonderry in April, as well as the death of community worker Ian Ogle at the hands of loyalists in east Belfast in January.
The last 12 months also saw a number of attacks including the detonation by dissidents of a bomb at Derry court house and the planting of an under-car bomb targeting a police officer which was discovered at a golf club.
The IRC commissioners state that paramilitarism remains a stark reality in Northern Ireland, and continues to be a serious obstacle to peace and reconciliation.
The commissioners also reiterated their analysis from their first report last October that ending paramilitarism “can only be sustainably brought about by means of a Twin Track Approach, which combines policing and justice responses alongside systemically tackling the serious socio-economic deprivation facing the communities where the paramilitaries operate”.
In their second report, the commissioners recommend that tackling paramilitarism be made a new dedicated outcome in the Programme for Government as the best way of achieving the whole-of-system approach they believe is needed.
They point to the need for neighbourhood policing to be enhanced and for urgent action to address the delay in cases coming before the courts.
The commissioners also highlight the need for increased asset recovery, recommending that an agency focusing solely on civil recovery of the proceeds of crime be established in Northern Ireland.
They further believe that the time has come for consideration to be given to a Transition Process for paramilitaries as a necessary next step.
To that end, the commissioners have called for a major public debate to begin, aware that their recommendations to end continuing paramilitary activity will need the support and confidence of the whole of society.
The four commissioners include John McBurney and Monica McWilliams, who were nominated by the Northern Ireland Executive; Tim O’Connor, nominated by the Irish Government, and Mitchell Reiss, nominated by the UK Government.
They are tasked with reporting annually to the UK and Irish Governments and to the Northern Ireland Executive.