Ministers McEntee and Coveney welcome publication of the third report of the Independent Reporting Commission
17 November, 2020
The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, T.D. and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney T.D., have welcomed the publication today of the third report of the Independent Reporting Commission.
The Third 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 Reports of the Commission provide an invaluable insight and they set out a pathway to achieving progress both through the policing and criminal justice response and a response to the wider socio-economic factors that exist in the communities where paramilitaries continue to operate.
This year the Commission highlights the return of the Northern Ireland Executive in January and the opportunity this provides for a re-set of the whole process of ending paramilitarism, with the political leadership, that is now possible.
Speaking on the Report’s publication, Minister McEntee said,
“This Third report of the Independent Reporting Commission sets out the stark reality that paramilitary activity remains in Northern Ireland. It continues to afflict the daily lives of too many people in communities in Northern Ireland.
“The Report is a timely reminder to all of us of the need to continue working to the aim to bring an end to paramilitarism.
“Those involved in paramilitarism are responsible for appalling crimes including attacks on police officers, paramilitary style shootings and attacks in their own communities. That is simply unacceptable and we need to ensure pressure is maintained.
“As well as reminding us of what needs to be done to tackle paramilitarism, the report also points to the steady progress on the Actions set out in the Executive Action Plan for Tackling Paramilitary Activity. Although much productive work has taken place in the last few years, it is clear that more needs to be done to tackle this ingrained problem.”
Minister Coveney said,
“I welcome the third report of the Independent Reporting Commission. It is a comprehensive report that highlights some of the good progress that has been made in dealing with paramilitarism in Northern Ireland in the last number of years. Despite this progress, paramilitaries continue to attack people and exert control over many communities.
“As the Commissioners recognise, more needs to be done to tackle paramilitarism on a longer-term and more sustained basis.
“For the first time, the Commission is able to present its report to the Northern Ireland Executive. As the Commissioners note, the return of the Executive represents a significant opportunity to make sustained progress in tackling residual paramilitarism in the coming years. Indeed, it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to play our part to end paramilitarism – in the words of the Fresh Start Agreement –“once and for all”.”
Ministers McEntee and Coveney expressed thanks to the four Commissioners and officials for this Report and their work to date.
Notes for Editors
The 3rd Report of the IRC can be located here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Independent_Reporting_Commission_Third_Report
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 is the Northern Ireland 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 Report notes that paramilitarism remains a reality. The overall level of threat remains a serious concern. The Report notes the extent and effectiveness of the co-operation between the Authorities in both jurisdictions.
Twin Track - The IRC reiterates its view from its previous Reports that the Twin Track Approach, first pre-figured in the Fresh Start Agreement itself, remains the key to tackling paramilitarism. 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.
Data and Indicators - Given the complexity of the issues involved in Track Two (tackling the systemic, socio-economic issues in communities), the IRC commissioned external consultants to undertake research to inform an analysis of approaches to address educational under-attainment and the efficacy of interventions. The research identified that deprivation and low education levels correlate to areas of high paramilitary activity. The research suggests that a best practice solution would be targeted supports at the individual, school and local level.
Case Studies - With the aid of external consultants, the IRC examined three areas where the links between deprivation and educational under-attainment were well-established – Birmingham, Limerick and Glasgow. The efficacy of strategies adopted to deal with educational under-attainment in these areas was assessed. The Case Studies clearly demonstrate the value of a whole-of-system approach to tackling similar issues and the importance of a range of targeted supports. The IRC also concludes that to be effective, the supports in Northern Ireland will need to be designed to address its particular circumstances.
Implementation of Actions in Executive Action Plan - As in their previous two Reports, the IRC conducts a detailed examination of the 43 actions set out in the Executive Action Plan. In broad terms, the IRC commends the work being done overall by the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board and Team. That said, the IRC expresses disappointment with the pace of progress on a number of projects, in particular, relating to preparing offenders with links to paramilitaries to reintegrate and the monitoring of serious offenders out of prison on licence.
The IRC notes that restoration of Stormont is an opportunity for greater progress especially in areas that require legislative changes. The IRC also welcomes the Executive approval of phase 2 of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme for a further three years to 2024 (subject to UK Government match funding).
Memorialisation - Recognising that the handling of recalling and marking the paramilitary past can be divisive and can ultimately undermine peacebuilding, the IRC calls for greater debate on memorials and awareness of the wider affect such events have on community relations. While people in Northern Ireland may have experienced the same events, occasions and personalities, narratives around them can be very different. The IRC calls on everybody involved to take due account of this reality when planning such occasions or projects.
Linking the twin tracks - Acknowledging the Executive’s approval of Phase Two of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme, the IRC calls for the Executive to detail plans on how it will integrate wider socio-economic transformation elements with the Programme.
Review of governance to ensure political ownership - The IRC recognises that political engagement with the Programme is vital if this work is to effectively progress and the Political Advisory Group has a key role in that task. The IRC therefore recommends that the role of the Political Advisory Group and the governance of the Programme as a whole be reviewed.
Women and Peacebuilding – Recognising that women play a vital role in our communities, including in relation to a process of transition and in building strong local leadership, the IRC calls for greater engagement by women’s organisations, to share and further develop expertise on women and peace building, and build on recent sectoral work on the role of paramilitaries in illegal money lending. This recommendation is linked to the momentum that has been building as the Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT) programme has progressed.
In light of the restored Executive, the IRC also reiterates previous calls 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, and also the consideration of a dedicated transition process for paramilitaries.