I very much welcome the publication of the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission. I commend the Commission for its valuable work so far and the efforts it has put into this report.
The IRC report is a sobering reminder of the continuing adverse impact that paramilitarism continues to have on society in Northern Ireland and brings an important and timely focus on what remains to be done to tackle it.
The report states that, 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, continuing paramilitarism remains a “stark reality” in Northern Ireland. It notes that, in the last year alone, paramilitaries have been linked to three horrific murders, a number of attacks on the PSNI and scores of paramilitary-style assaults.
The Commission recognise that continued paramilitarism is profoundly de-stabilising in Northern Ireland and, as long as this persists, peace and reconciliation will be much more difficult to achieve. It is against this backdrop that the IRC calls for a renewal of urgency around efforts to bring paramilitarism to an end – in the words of the Fresh Start Agreement – “once and for all”.
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 paramilitarism. The twin-track approach is an holistic approach that combines a policing and justice response side-by-side with a comprehensive addressing of the systemic, socio-economic issues facing communities where paramilitaries operate.
The Report also notes the extent and effectiveness of the co-operation between the authorities in both jurisdictions on this island.
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 for Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime – which flowed from the Fresh Start Agreement – 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 continuing absence of the power-sharing Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland and the North South Ministerial Council is of grave concern for the Government, as it is for the British Government.
I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland throughout the latest talks process, to encourage the parties to reach an accommodation.
All five political parties have engaged constructively in the talks process with that objective over the last number of months. Progress has been made across a range of important issues. However, some key outstanding issues remain and finding final agreement on these issues will require genuine and courageous dialogue and leadership by the party leaders in Northern Ireland.
The awful murder of Lyra McKee and the outpouring of public feeling that followed demands a serious response at political level. People want the devolved power-sharing institutions up and running again to represent their interests and deal with the issues and challenges that Northern Ireland faces at present, not least the issues raised by the UK exit from the European Union, however this proceeds.
I remain in regular and ongoing contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as we continue to work to seek an agreement between the parties to get all of the institutions of the Agreement up and running again.