Ministers Coveney and Flanagan welcome publication of the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission
4 November, 2019
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D. and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D., welcomed the publication today of the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission.
The Second Report sets out the Commission’s further assessment of progress to date on the implementation of the provisions of the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement that are designed to tackle paramilitary activity and associated criminality, and bringing an end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.
The report finds that continued paramilitarism remains a stark reality of life in Northern Ireland, as exemplified, sadly, by three further paramilitary-related murders since the last Report; Jim Donegan, Ian Ogle and Lyra McKee.
It also highlights the continuation of the adverse impact on the efforts to implement the Fresh Start Agreement initiatives that the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive since January 2017 is having, while embracing the twin-track approach set out in the Fresh Start Agreement.
Speaking on the Report’s publication, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D. said,
“This Second report of the Independent Reporting Commission is a very important document. It is a timely reminder to all of us of the continuing adverse impact on society in Northern Ireland of the culture of paramilitarism.”
“Tragically, since the publication of the first Commission report, we have witnessed the lethal malice of paramilitary gangs in the callous murders of Lyra McKee, Ian Ogle and Jim Donegan and the attempted bombings of PSNI officers. The Second Report emphasises the need for the whole-of-society approach to ending paramilitarism set out in the Fresh Start Agreement. While progress has been made across a range of measures, I would urge people on all sides in Northern Ireland, especially those in positions of political influence, to engage fully in this process of positive change for the people of Northern Ireland.”
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. said,
“I welcome the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission. It provides an important and timely focus on what still needs to be done to tackle residual paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.
“The spectre of paramilitarism continues to afflict communities in Northern Ireland. Those involved are responsible for appalling and unacceptable crimes this year, including the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, attacks on the PSNI and punishment shootings and attacks in their own communities.
“There is an obligation to ensure a definitive end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, 21 years after the Good Friday Agreement.
“The IRC’s report highlights a range of areas where the Executive is acutely needed in order to take forward implementation of its Action Plan for tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime, following the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.
“The IRC’s report is one more reason why the political parties must urgently reach an agreement to operate the devolved power-sharing institutions again, in the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
“I will continue to work intensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to press for an agreement between all of the political parties that achieves this without any further delay.”
Ministers Coveney and Flanagan expressed thanks to the Commissioners and their staff for this Report and congratulate them on their work to date.
Notes for Editors
The Fresh Start Agreement was concluded on 17 November 2015. It included measures aimed at ending paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Executive, on the basis of recommendations from an expert panel, published the Executive Action Plan for Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime on 19 July 2016. It contains 43 commitments in response to the Panel’s recommendations.
To facilitate monitoring of the implementation of measures to address paramilitarism, the Fresh Start Agreement provides for the establishment by the two Governments of the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC). Legislation has been enacted in Ireland and the UK to establish the IRC.
The IRC’s functions are to
report annually on progress towards ending continuing paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland (or on such further occasions as required);
report on the implementation of the relevant measures of the three administrations – critical here will be the NI Executive’s Strategy to tackle paramilitary activity and associated criminality; and
consult the UK Government and relevant law enforcement agencies, the Irish Government and relevant law enforcement agencies and, in Northern Ireland, the Executive, PSNI, statutory agencies, local councils, communities and civic society organisations.”
The IRC is a four-member body. Mr. Tim O’ Connor, former Secretary General to the President was nominated by the Irish Government. The UK Government nominated Mr. Mitchell Reiss, former US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland. Prof. Monica McWilliams and Mr. John McBurney were nominated by the Northern Ireland Executive.
The Continuing Threat - The Second report notes that while there has been a downward trend in Punishment Style Attacks (PSAs) since 2009/10, the period 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019 showed an upward trend over the previous 12 months, underlined, in particular, by three paramilitary-related murders (Jim Donegan, Ian Ogle and Lyra McKee). The Report notes the extent and effectiveness of the co-operation between the Authorities in both jurisdictions.
Twin Track Approach - The IRC reiterates its view from its First Report of 2018 that the Twin Track Approach, first pre-figured in the Fresh Start Agreement itself, remains the key to tackling it – that is, a Policing and Justice response, side by side with a comprehensive addressing of the systemic, socio-economic issues facing communities where the paramilitaries operate.
Programme for Government - The IRC analysis has come to the view that however well-intentioned, a project-focussed approach to systemic issues, with time and budget limits, is not sufficient. Many of the issues involved – e.g. educational under-attainment – are complex, long-term and inter-connected with several other factors. Only a long-term, sustained, whole-of-system approach to tackling these issues will work. The IRC conclude that the tackling of paramilitarism should be an outcome of the Programme for Government and a key Recommendation of the Report is that it be declared a new, dedicated Outcome of the Programme.
Data and Indicators - Given the complexity of the issues involved in Track Two (tackling the systemic, socio-economic issues in communities), the IRC this year commissioned external expert support to advise it. A particular area examined in more depth was the impact of educational under-attainment, with figures showing starkly how wards where paramilitarism is present are also places where educational under-attainment is particularly acute, further underlining the case for the holistic approach the IRC is urging.
Case Studies - With the aid of external consultants, the IRC examined three case studies – Glasgow, Limerick and Manchester. The Case Studies clearly demonstrate the value of a whole-of-system approach to tackling similar issues. In particular, what has been done in Limerick demonstrates the transformational progress that can be made in tackling seemingly intractable issues around criminality and gangs when a determined Twin Track approach is pursued combining good policing and justice interventions with a comprehensive, whole-of-system tackling of the socio-economic issues involved, together with community buy-in.
Project by Project Report - As in their First Report, the IRC conducts a detailed examination of the 43 projects set out in the Executive Action Plan, which are based on the Recommendations of the Three-Person Panel. In broad terms, the IRC commends the work being done overall by the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board and Team and the joined up approach to tackling paramilitarism. That said, the IRC expresses disappointment with the pace of progress on a number of projects, in particular, the Communities in Transition initiative where progress has been slow.
The IRC notes that the absence of Ministerial decision-making at Stormont is a major obstacle to more speedy progress. As noted above, the IRC also points to the need for the Action Plan as a whole to move on from the project-based focus to a Whole-of-Government approach.
- Criminal Asset Recovery - The IRC recommends new action to enhance the impact of asset recovery powers, given the effect they can have on tackling criminality, including that linked to paramilitary activity. The IRC, therefore, is calling for consideration to be given to the establishment of an agency that focusses solely on civil recovery and the taxation of the proceeds of crime in Northern Ireland
- Enhancing the Effectiveness of Justice - The IRC recommends a number of additional measures aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the Policing/Justice responses to paramilitarism. These include an initiative on Unexplained Wealth Orders, the abolition of Committal Proceedings, the putting on the Statute Book of new offences to tackle Serious and Organised Crime, borrowing from the Scottish model and a renewal of their call in the First Report around enhanced Neighbourhood Policing in the communities where the paramilitaries operate.
- A Transition Process for Paramilitaries - A key Recommendation in the Report is that consideration be given to the introduction of a dedicated Transition Process for Paramilitaries. The IRC point to the large number of people who are still signed-up members of paramilitary organisations, even though the numbers believed to be engaged in ongoing criminality are much less. The IRC believes that this scale of paramilitary presence in society, even if much of it is dormant on a day-to-day basis, constitutes a serious and ongoing risk. The IRC acknowledge that there are many complexities involved in considering a Transition Process and it will be for the two Governments and the Executive to decide on whether such a move is desirable and feasible.
- Whole of Society Debate and Buy-in - The IRC places significant importance on the need for a whole of society debate on continued paramilitarism. The IRC recognises that the issue remains highly controversial and there are many contesting narratives around it. The IRC strongly believes, therefore, that such a wide-ranging debate on all the issues and factors involved is essential if public confidence and buy-in are to be secured. Only in that way can the scale and ambition of what the IRC believes will be necessary be undertaken and lingering paramilitarism be brought to an end once and for all.