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'A stark reality': Paramilitary violence in North being fuelled by Brexit and Stormont uncertainty

A report was published today by a paramilitary watchdog.

A UVF mural in north Belfast.
A UVF mural in north Belfast.
Image: Paul Faith/PA Archive/PA Images

PARAMILITARY ACTIVITY REMAINS a “stark reality” in Northern Ireland and has been fuelled by the lack of a government, a study by a cross-border taskforce has warned. 

A report, published by the paramilitary watchdog the Independent Reporting Commission, warns that paramilitarism has not yet ended in the region – despite the joint commitment by the Irish, UK and Northern Irish governments in November 2015.

“The political vacuum…. makes the task of bringing paramilitarism to an end immeasurably more difficult,” the report warns. 

“This uncertainty is serving to add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism,” the commission warns.

In January 2017, the Assembly collapsed following the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as a protest against the DUP’s involvement in the RHI scandal. 

Despite repeated attempts at talks, Stormont and power-sharing in Northern Ireland has still not been restored. 

One of the most notorious incidents of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland was the murder in April of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed in Derry by the New IRA. 

The commission suggests that the time is right for Northern Ireland to consider a “dedicated transition process” for members of paramilitary organisations. 

While acknowledging that such a suggestion is controversial, the commission suggests that it can’t be ruled out as an option. 

Most members, the commission reports, are what it calls ‘dormant’ – not involved in criminal activity on a day-to-day basis. 

The report finds that while the frequency of paramilitary attacks has generally been decreasing since 2009/10, the number of paramilitary-style attacks increased between October 2018 and September 2019.

The commission found that there were 12 paramilitary-style attacks in June and nine in August, calling the continuing threat of paramilitary violence from dissident republicans and loyalists an “issue of profound concern”. 

londonderry-unrest Pro-IRA graffiti appeared in Derry in May, only metres away from where Lyra McKee was killed. Source: Aoife Moore/PA Archive/PA Images

The commission, which was formed to report on the steps Northern Ireland is making to end paramilitary activity, warns that Brexit has “exposed and highlighted” the threat of dissident and paramilitary violence. 

“The real issue about the dangers for peace in Northern Ireland, therefore, is not that Brexit itself could be the direct cause of a renewal of violence, but rather that it has the potential to add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism,” the report found. 

The commission, which published its first report in October 2018, makes a number of recommendations. 

It recommends that “serious consideration” should be given to the creation of an agency that will focus on the civil recovery of the proceeds of crime, as well as increasing the funding for neighbourhood policing teams. 

However, it also warns that a cross-government approach should be taken to tackling the root causes of paramilitarism that includes a broader look at the progress the peace process has made since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. 

“Too often, the issue of paramilitarism is reduced to a series of throw-away comments or regarded purely as a matter of criminality entirely for the police to deal with. It is, however, much deeper and more complex than that,” the report states. 

“It is very clear that paramilitarism is not the only issue of unfinished business of the peace process.”

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