I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 and 137 together.
The Fresh Start Agreement provided for the establishment by the two Governments of the Independent Reporting Commission to facilitate monitoring of the implementation of measures aimed at ending paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
An international agreement between Ireland and the UK, establishing the Independent Reporting Commission, was signed in September 2016 and the Agreement was given effect to by legislation in both jurisdictions.
The Commission’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.
As the Deputy will be aware, on 23 October last year, the two Governments published the Commission's first report. I commend the Commission for its work so far and the efforts it has put into this first report. I welcome the report as an opportune reminder to all of us of the continuing adverse impact on society in Northern Ireland of the culture of paramilitarism that persists in some communities there. The Commission's report is available at its website (www.ircommission.org ).
In the report, the Commission expresses strong confidence in the whole-of-society approach to ending paramilitarism that underlies the measures set out in the Fresh Start Agreement . A striking feature of the report is the clear correlation displayed between the locations of paramilitary activity and areas of social and economic disadvantage in Northern Ireland.
The Commission has reported good progress across a range of the measures that are set out in the Executive's Action Plan for tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime, and it reported also that there remains a significant amount of work to be done. I am sure the Deputy will join me in urging 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 Commission's report makes clear that there are a range of areas where the full and effective implementation of the Executive’s action plan is hampered by the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland. It is another reminder of the importance of re-establishing the power-sharing arrangements in order that they can work to address the issues of most importance for people in communities across Northern Ireland.
The Commission will continue its valuable work over the next number of years as per the Agreement between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom. I look forward to the future annual reports of the Commission.