Motion: Paramilitarism in Northern Ireland 2 March 2020

Transcript below:

That this Assembly recognises that many communities across Northern Ireland are still living under siege from paramilitary gangs; reiterates its total rejection of those who continue to engage in criminality, intimidation and coercive control; gives its full support to the agencies working to close down criminal networks and activity; and calls on the Minister of Justice to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies are properly resourced to allow them to increase their efforts in addressing ongoing paramilitarism.

Mr Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the motion and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List.

Mr Beattie: I will be supporting the SDLP’s amendment because it adds value to the motion, and anything that adds value is positive.

Paramilitarism is a scourge on our society and on all our communities. Those involved in paramilitarism are self-serving individuals who are involved for profit, for self-proclaimed status, to control the working class with violence distilled through fear and for the promotion of a separated society that creates a sense of distrust of the other community. When I say paramilitary groups, I mean the UVF, I mean the UDA, I mean the INLA, I mean RAAD, I mean PIRA, CIRA, RIRA and all others shades of paramilitary terrorist groups. There can be no difference.

In 2010, 12 years after the Belfast Agreement, we still had 94 violent paramilitary crimes: that was 37 shootings and 57 assaults. The effects are the same, whether it is a gun, or a stick, or a bat, or a nail or a hammer, the results are exactly the same: ruined lives.

In 2016, the year we introduced the action plan on tackling paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime, there was a total of 85 attacks. The split between the trend for shooting and assaults remained pretty much the same, and this went up in 2018, before the latest statistics from 2019, where we now sit again at the 2016 figure of 85 violent paramilitary attacks — more than one a week. It is as if nothing has changed, even with the paramilitary task force, but we all in this House know that lots has changed because there is more to paramilitarism than just violent attacks.

We have a duty in this Assembly to show leadership in the tackling of paramilitarism, in word and in deed. We cannot shy away from it. I look to the Sinn Féin benches, and I know you do not want to hear it, but it is important that you do hear it, because your link with the IRA and the army council is destroying our society. Your argument that it does not exist just does not hold water.

The murder of Robert McCartney — that despicable, disgraceful crime — was met with a wall of silence, as was the murder of Paul Quinn in 2007, where the Sinn Féin MLA met the IRA to assure himself that they were not involved. But they were involved. Then he gave them cover by saying Paul Quinn was involved in criminality. After the violent death of that young lad, they besmirched his name. It is absolutely disgraceful. Sinn Féin must distance itself from the IRA — past and present — and it must do so vigorously. There is no place for a political party that has a military wing; there is no place for a military wing that has a political party.

Unionism must also take a hard look at itself and ensure that it distances itself from loyalist paramilitaries. For far too long, active paramilitaries have torn their communities apart. Loyalist paramilitaries are responsible for extortion, intimidation, drug dealing and coercive control — self-styled brigadiers feeding off their communities.

Communities are living in fear of loyalist paramilitaries. In its worst excesses, it results in murder. The murder of Ian Ogle was utterly vile. It was perpetrated in a cowardly manner. The Ogle family represents the reality for many people across working-class areas in Northern Ireland. People out there are still using paramilitary gangs to torment communities. The intimidation of the Ogle family started long before Ian was murdered. A year on from that, the family is still not allowed to grieve in peace. They are still the victims of intimidation and attempts to alienate them from their community.

I pay tribute to the Ogle family — Vera and Toni are in the Gallery — for their steadfastness and courage in seeking justice over the murder of Ian, partner of Vera and father of Toni. The perpetrators are loyalists who say they are protecting their community, but they are doing nothing more than damaging their community, and they must be rooted out. They will be rooted out only if we — all of us in the Chamber — take stock of our actions and words and tell them that they are not acceptable. It is not enough for us to say that it is down to civic community to do that if we do not show leadership.

Of course, resourcing the police is going to help a lot. I hope that we do resource the police, because neighbourhood policing and ward constables are the way forward in order for people to link with a policeman that they know to help them get rid of the paramilitaries.

There must be other practical measures. Society is not balanced in the way we tackle paramilitaries. We try describing paramilitaries as nothing more than criminals or organised crime gangs, and I am in favour of doing that. We seek evidence against them, make arrests, put them through the courts and, if found guilty, jail them. Then we allow drug dealers to classify themselves as politically motivated offenders. We put them in a separated prison regime, where they pick up their title of brigadier, and, when they get released, they bring it back into their communities. It is absolutely ridiculous that, on the outside of prisons, we say, “You’re a criminal”, but when we put them in prison, we say, “You’re a brigadier”. When they come out, with their self-importance, the cycle starts all over again.

The House will know that in 2016 I brought forward a motion to end separated prison regimes, for that very reason. My motion gave eight years to reduce and then end that separated regime. If the Assembly had supported me, we would be halfway through that process, and that would have been the point at which we stopped putting in new admissions to the separated prison regime — but you did not. When the chips were down, you did not support it, and we are no further forward. I received abuse and threats, but I stood here and said that it needed to end, and it does need to end.

We are allowing ourselves and our society to be held hostage by the paramilitaries. The outworking of that is up in the Gallery, if you wish to look: the Ogle family. We should be supporting people like that, and there are many people like that around the country.

Mr Butler: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that it is with regret that two of my former colleagues, prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay, lost their lives perhaps because of our failure to challenge and end the segregated regime, as you have explicitly laid out before us tonight?

Mr Beattie: Thank you for the intervention. You are absolutely right, because the intelligence says that those prison officers were targeted from inside the prison and from inside that prison regime. That separated prison regime targeted two men for murder, and we allow it. It is time that we stopped appeasing them and stood shoulder to shoulder with our communities to say, “No more”.

For those who want to make the transition, they need to do so. There should be no inducement: just do it. Move away from it and become something positive in your community. Just move away from it. If you are waiting for somebody to put their hand in their pocket and pull out a wallet and give you money, you have missed the point. It is time to end it for your community’s sake, for your children’s sake and for your family’s sake. If you do not do so, I go back to the very start, when I said, “You do this for profit. You do this for self-interest. You do this because you want to be seen as the big lad, in the pub with a pint, saying, ‘I’m the brigadier'”.

Mr Speaker: Will the Member start to wind up his remarks, please?

Mr Beattie: For those who do not wish to move away, we need to chase them and root them out. We need to bring every single thing available to get those people, to get the evidence and to get them into jail. When we put them in jail, we treat them like criminals. That is how we will deal with this.

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up. Thank you, Member.

Mr McGlone: I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after “activity;” and insert:

“acknowledges that paramilitarism is being used as a cover for profiteering criminal gangs; further recognises that addressing the pervasive influences of poverty, deprivation and lack of opportunity in working-class communities across Northern Ireland is critical to releasing the grip of criminals; and calls on the Minister of Justice to introduce unexplained wealth orders to allow the PSNI to disrupt and dismantle these gangs and to work with her Executive colleagues to fully resource the PSNI and other agencies to eradicate the influence of paramilitarism.”

I thank the proposer of the motion for delivering —

Mr Speaker: Will you resume your seat for a second?

Mr McGlone: Sorry. Excuse me.

Mr Speaker: Thank you. You will have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes. Please open the debate.

Mr McGlone: You should have said, “You should’ve known better”. [Laughter.]

Thank you for that. It is getting a wee bit late.

I thank the proposers of the motion for tabling the debate. The presence, prevalence and insidious influence of paramilitary gangs in our community should be a matter of immense concern for all Members. Their operation as organised paramilitary gangs is in opposition to our collective efforts to sustain peace and to deliver for the people whom we represent through exclusively peaceful means.

Our amendment is designed to be constructive and to build on the sentiment that the proposers have introduced here today by identifying some of the methods by which the new Executive can disrupt and dismantle paramilitary gangs. Those methods may not be exclusive to the Executive themselves. It is also designed to give a voice to those communities who have tried to break from the grip of paramilitarism but feel that, through the cycle of poverty, deprivation and inequality, the odds are stacked against them.

Paramilitarism involves murder, extortion, fuel laundering, cigarettes, drugs, organised crime, human trafficking and prostitution, to name but a few. Tackling those issues needs the involvement of the Organised Crime Task Force, along with HMRC. If Mr Bling, with no apparent means to his name, is sailing about in a BMW, with lots of gold dripping from him, it is not too hard to figure out that, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be an extortionist paramilitary.

Any plan to eradicate the influence of paramilitaries and criminal gangs must recognise that inequality and lack of opportunity are critical recruitment tools for those intent on ruining the lives of a new generation. If we want to stop them, we need to provide those communities with the opportunity for a better life. Indeed, that was touched on in the earlier debate around some of the domestic violence activities of individuals. I hope that the proposers of the motion take the amendment as a supportive supplement.

We cannot pretend that the recurring influence of paramilitaries is not a feature of this society that needs to be overcome. It is a fundamental part of the unfinished business of our peace process. While parties here will disagree on the profile or the provenance of paramilitary gangs or, indeed, on the most appropriate operational response to their threat, it is important that we send a united message to those involved. Whoever you think that your struggle is against, whether it is republicanism or loyalism, apparently, Irish unity or the British state, allegedly: you are wrong.

Every act of violence is a violation of the will of the people of this island, North and South. Your fight is with the people of Ireland, and that is a fight that you will never, ever win.


7.45 pm

It is important that we do not allow our different approaches to this issue, or different emphases on approaches to it, or to the issue of legacy, to be interpreted as division on the core matter. There is no tolerance for those who set themselves against the direct wishes of our people for peace. As parties, we should have a coherent and consistent shared standard that recognises and rejects paramilitary interests. Our shared approach should be about rooting out paramilitarism in all its forms, not singling out particular groups or parties. A whole-community approach, which the SDLP has long called for, would send a powerful message to those whom we represent and to those who oppose these institutions.

That should present a challenge to us all as Members of the Assembly. It is not enough to issue stale statements of condemnation when there is a security alert in our own constituencies. Recycling the same words and sentiments when it is close to home is just not enough. The truth is that a bomb in Derry or Belfast is as much of a threat to people who live in Mid Ulster, Newry or anywhere else as if it had been placed in one of our towns. We should see every vestige of paramilitary activity as an attack on all of us and respond as one community, united in our commitment to ending the coercive control of those gangs over our society.

It is easy to talk about unity in the House in March, removed from the context of difficult situations. Our commitment to tackling paramilitarism together is more often tested in the white heat of controversy in the summer months. I will not dwell on that, but it is worth saying that when political messages on paramilitarism appear capricious, self-serving or, indeed, divided, it only compounds the working challenges for those who are trying to help communities to transition away from ingrained paramilitary interests. They thrive on division, and it must be our mission to stay close to each other when times are difficult. It must also be said that it would be easier to stay closer on those issues if these institutions were clearly able to allay the misgivings that have previously been expressed that programme money unduly follows paramilitary-related entities or that employment that derives from some community funding is unfairly given to those with proven paramilitary associations.

I will now turn to the terms of the amendment and, specifically, to the additional tools that the PSNI and the courts need to disrupt and dismantle criminal gangs. Members will be aware that the absence of a functioning Executive has led to a lag in the introduction of unexplained wealth orders here. I welcome the Justice Minister’s comments that she intends to bring forward the necessary provisions to activate the implementation of those orders. It would be useful if she would — I am sure that she will, later on — outline a timetable for the introduction of the necessary regulations.

It is important for confidence in policing, and in our efforts to tackle paramilitaries and criminal gangs, that people see the relentless pursuit of those who have amassed significant assets as a result of criminality. How many times have Members tried to encourage people to bring information to the police, only to be told that the dogs in the street know who is behind the drug dealing, punishment beatings or racketeering? That is because they live in big houses, drive flash cars and appear invulnerable to the law. Indeed, it is suggested that some of them are agents, and that must be put on record here too.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that those who have significant assets, with no immediate evidence of a means to support that and who are suspected of being implicated in serious criminal wrongdoing, should have to account for those assets. We cannot pretend that there is no correlation between those who have previously exercised coercive control over communities under the guise of armed struggle and those who now exercise the same form of control for profit. They have not gone away, you know.

It is important that every tool be available to bring those gangs to justice. This must be the beginning of a sustained assault on the infrastructure of criminal control that exists in far too many communities. We must acknowledge that this is not a matter for just the Justice Minister to tackle — I referred earlier to the likes of HMRC — nor will resource alone bring to an end the activities of those who prey on our communities and their insecurities or fears. We need a whole-Executive approach to dealing with the causes of the poverty, deprivation and deep-seated inequalities that exist, particularly in working-class communities.

Mrs D Kelly: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that, in dealing with the past, it is imperative that the legacy mechanisms in the Stormont House Agreement are introduced sooner rather than later because we need the truth — the horrible truth — to be told in full about what was done, and we need all those responsible held to account?

Mr McGlone: Absolutely. It is vital that we have the truth. Without the truth, people will live with that sense of injustice. That, too, can be fed upon and perpetuated by these people, who tend to portray themselves, which is the only way to put it, as defenders of communities and the like. Without that sense of justice permeating society, those people, however misguided they may be, will still see a void to fill.

There is also a requirement to invest in communities that have yet to experience the peace dividend. It means ensuring that we have a regionally balanced economy that provides opportunity for everyone. It means levelling up our ambition for new housing. It means investing in the infrastructure needed to allow towns and cities across the North to flourish.

We should be building a society that provides everyone with the security of a job and the dignity of a home. It is the communities that have been let down the most that are most at risk of paramilitary and criminal control. I therefore ask Members to support our amendment in an effort to deal with the insidious influence of these gangs. We are happy to hear that the Member has agreed to support our amendment.

Mr Givan: I thank the Member for Upper Bann, Mr Beattie, for bringing the motion to the Assembly. We will support the motion and the SDLP amendment, which, we think, enhances the motion. Indeed, it reflects one of the amendments that we had wished to table on unexplained wealth orders. To that end, we will support it.

Paramilitarism has been a challenge for decades. It was wrong in the past and it is wrong today to have paramilitary organisations. We need an effective response to that. When I look at how the police engage with paramilitary organisations, I recognise that they have a policy. Their policy outlines that their engagement must be for a clear policing purpose and that subsequent interactions must be necessary, lawful, proportionate and in line with the code of ethics.

An uncomfortable truth that Members need to face up to is that there is engagement with individuals associated with paramilitary organisations. There are also policies in place, whether written or unwritten. We see it when officials from the Housing Executive or other public-sector organisations engage with individuals regarded as community representatives. I suspect that that happens across every constituency, and Members will be able to cite examples of where that takes place. That is an uncomfortable truth that people need to face up to. It is the uncomfortable reality that paramilitary organisations exist, as do the individuals associated with them. That does not make it right. Therefore, there needs to be a response that brings us to the stage where paramilitary organisations no longer exist, and we can see the transition that people have talked about taking place.

I will give way to Mr Allister.

Mr Allister: Does the Member ever think that those organisations might continue to exist in part because of the encouragement that they draw from the House? Where else in the world would you have a security assessment that the structures of the IRA remain in existence, the Provisional army council is still there, the IRA continues to have access to weapons and that the IRA army council oversees the IRA and Sinn Féin? How on earth do we ever defeat paramilitaries by allowing the example to be set, through the institutions of this House, that a paramilitary organisation controls a party of Government?

Mr Speaker: The Member has one extra minute.

Mr Givan: I will come on to the Provisional IRA very quickly, because I notice that my time is going. The Member makes a valid point that we need to know exactly what is going on when it comes to the Provisional IRA. That is why I and colleagues have been raising this issue at the Justice Committee. It was raised with the Justice Minister at Question Time. Where is the assessment? The Garda Commissioner has indicated that he stands over the assessment from 2015. The Chief Constable did not answer on it when he came to the Committee, yet the police have given press releases to different media outlets. We need to know the extent of the criminality that paramilitary organisations are engaged in, because that is the only way to deal with them effectively. That response in 2015 talked about the members of PIRA involved in electioneering, leafleting and other aspects, and that is fine. However, if someone who was engaged in the Shankill bomb, for example, comes to your door, one might ask whether it is really appropriate for that individual to be involved in electioneering. We need a proper and up-to-date assessment, so that people can face up to what the status of PIRA is and what level of criminality PIRA members are involved in. It talked about them being engaged in large-scale smuggling. We need to find out the extent of that, and, therefore, we need an assessment.

I support the amendment. We need unexplained wealth orders, so that people’s assets can be seized. Until people see action, they will not have confidence in law enforcement agencies’ ability to deal effectively with people who masquerade under the banner of paramilitary organisations and are engaged in criminality. The Chief Constable indicated that he would like the Assets Recovery Agency to be brought back to Northern Ireland. I would like that to be developed to see whether that would become an effective tool in going after and targeting paramilitary organisations. If it is, it will get our party’s support. I also want to see what more the National Crime Agency is doing. It took a lot of work to get the House to support the NCA. People resisted it, and eventually we got there.

Mr Speaker: Could the Member wind up his remarks, please?

Mr Givan: We need everybody to support the forces of law and order, including the National Crime Agency. I support the motion and the amendment.

Mr G Kelly: Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as an rún. I thank the Members for bringing this important motion for debate. I will speak in favour of the motion and the amendment; I see that that is where all the other parties are at. I should also declare that I am a member of the Policing Board. [Interruption.]

I am the one speaking here.

The Fresh Start Agreement was published by the Executive and the British and Irish Governments in November 2015. It included commitments to tackle paramilitaries and organised crime. The Executive action plan was published in July 2016 and contained 43 recommendations. The action plan was predicated on the need for a law enforcement response to the criminal gangs and their activities but, importantly, in tandem with a systemic, sustained and collaborative response to tackling the underlying issues of a socio-economic nature that are endemic in the areas in which those gangs mostly operate.

Doug Beattie went through a number of statistics. In 2019, the recorded statistics of paramilitary groups were that there were two deaths from shooting and 18 casualties of shooting. Of those 18 attacks, eight occurred in Derry and Strabane and eight in Belfast. There were also 67 recorded casualties of assault by various organisations. Five of those attacks were on people under the age of 18. There were also 15 bombing incidents and 39 shooting incidents. There were 147 arrests, which resulted in 18 people being charged. I add to that the fact that threats have been made to a number of political representatives. Threats are made against community workers on an ongoing basis and, indeed, wide-ranging threats to Sinn Féin members.


8.00 pm

The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) was established by both Governments to report annually on progress made, especially on the implementation of the relevant measures from the three Administrations. The IRC’s second report was published in November last year, and it outlined the imperative of a:

“sustained, long-term and holistic effort that combines the policing and justice response alongside a major and energetic tackling of the deep socio-economic issues facing the communities where”

these criminal gangs


Mr Stalford: I am grateful to the Member for giving way. In a previous debate and in this one, we have heard, on more than one occasion, about socio-economic deprivation. Does the Member not agree that, ultimately, individuals are individuals, that they choose to engage in criminal activity and that no excuse can be found lying in a defence of socio-economic deprivation?

Mr Speaker: The Member has one extra minute.

Mr G Kelly: I thank you for that, and I do not necessarily disagree. Of course individuals are responsible for what they do, but you cannot ignore the underlying socio-economic issues in communities. You have to take a holistic view, and if you want to draw people away from criminal activity, you need, as other Members have said, a full-government approach. I will talk about that in a moment.

The issues are complex and are ingrained in the fabric of those communities. We require a new, dedicated outcome in the Programme for Government as the best way of achieving the whole-of-the-system approach that is so essential for the success of the project. A policing and criminal justice response is essential, so I agree with you entirely on that, but, in isolation from an accompanying community empowerment response, it cannot deliver the required outcome that everyone in the House and outside it wants.

The IRC’s second report also contained a number of other key recommendations: a greater emphasis to be placed on the correct use of civil recovery powers, and, as has been mentioned a number of times, that would also involve unexplained wealth orders being introduced; and an increased provision of dedicated neighbourhood policing teams, which should be fully resourced. Again, information that tries to deal with that is, at the base of policing, community empowerment and community policing.

Another key recommendation was the introduction of measures to improve the effectiveness of the justice system. Those are aimed at increasing the pace at which the justice system works, with a view to building public confidence and support, especially in communities that have become disengaged from the criminal justice agencies. All those things are connected.

To conclude, if we are really intent on wanting to tackle effectively and degrade seriously those major criminal gangs, the twin-track approach outlined above is essential to achieving our shared objectives. They are not mutually exclusive in any way. I note that the Chief Constable, commenting on the publication of ‘New Decade, New Approach’, welcomed commitments pertaining to those points. As a member of the Policing Board, I can say that the policing with the community branch is central to there being confidence in policing, and the commitment to increasing neighbourhood teams is fundamental to that. I urge Members to support the motion and the amendment.

Mr Muir: I speak on behalf of the Alliance Party and welcome the tabling of the motion, which addresses a key concern for many people across Northern Ireland, especially those living under the grip of criminals who are masquerading as paramilitaries.

Nearly 22 years after the Good Friday Agreement, people are rightly fed up. They want the see the rule of law apply to every part of Northern Ireland and paramilitary organisations gone for good. The process of transitioning towards a culture of lawfulness as part of our post-conflict transformation has been far, far too slow. The reasons for that are many, with an improved statutory response always something that we should explore, but it would be wrong to point the blame at others when, in fact, it is political leaders who share a significant burden of responsibility.

I acknowledge the complexity of our past, but, until we finally declare that all violence in the past, whether by organisations, individuals or the state, was wrong and should never be glorified or excused, we will continue to lend justification to those who seek to legitimise their actions in the present. Whether in 1970 or 2020, all paramilitary activity was and is wrong. If, however, people are willing to transition and committed to transitioning to a new, lawful future that recognises that the only organisation whose writ should run large is the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we must embrace that and assist.

As David Trimble stated:

“Just because someone has a past does not mean they cannot have a future”,

but when they are, in fact, still living in the past, and denying others a future as a result of their criminal activities, such as drug dealing, which are done under the cover and veil of illegal paramilitary organisations, the only future that those people should have is in prison.

Tacit or explicit tolerance and endorsement of those people must end. Words must be matched with actions. A Member cannot vote for the motion and then stand side by side with individuals who are known to be still involved in paramilitarism. Failure to stand up to those who are known to be actively involved in paramilitarism, and instead meeting, endorsing and legitimising them, only serves to worsen the situation that is endured by local communities and inhibits statutory bodies to act when elected political representatives send out messages of acceptability. Only the police, courts and rule of law should be given respectability in Northern Ireland in 2020, properly resourced and with all the necessary legislative powers.

Last week, I picked up my local newspaper to read that the number of households who were declared homeless in Ards and North Down because of paramilitary threats has almost doubled since 2016. That is just one of the number of reasons why we must take action. I am, therefore, content to support the motion and amendment but in the knowledge that we can have all the laws and funding, and pass all the motions we like, but to effectively tackle and end paramilitarism, there must be collective effort across the Executive, the Chamber, councils and communities.

Local people are being locked out of opportunities to grow and prosper by paramilitary gatekeepers who control, dominate and exploit them. By working together, addressing the circumstances that are used to recruit people into their criminal empires and adopting a zero-tolerance approach to figures who are actively involved in paramilitarism, we can, together, turn the words that are being expressed here into action. It is important that we do that.

Ms Bunting: I wish to declare my membership of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I thank those who tabled the motion, giving the Assembly a chance to discuss properly the scourge that has blighted our land and communities for decades. It is scandalous that, some 22 years after the Belfast Agreement and all the promises of ceasefires and standing down, paramilitarism continues, albeit in a different guise. Then again, what is a mere lie to those who engage in violent beatings and murder? Let me be clear: it was just as wrong then as it is now, and has been all along on all sides.

Like the parasite that it is, paramilitarism has morphed and mutated to fit its own needs and gain. Long gone are the days when those who engaged in it took the view that they were defending their people — that there was a cause. Now, the only protection the community wants or needs is from those who purport to be their protectors and defenders. The only cause is lifestyle, status, money and drugs. There is no political or religious cause. There is only crime — organised crime, drug dealing, loan-sharking, racketeering, and keeping their own people in line through threats and intimidation. My constituency of East Belfast has seen more than its fair share.

They murder their own because of perceived slights or insults. For hard men, they have very sensitive egos. Just ask the McCartneys and, more recently, the Ogles. I have met both, and I stand with both. There is no justification for people’s being chased, beaten and stabbed to death in the street, or on a farm, as in the case of Paul Quinn.

Folks are sick of working themselves into the ground to raise their children and give them a decent life. They are just about making ends meet, while watching people who have seldom, if ever, worked a day in their lives, or who apparently have modest jobs, but live in great houses, with the best of everything, and cars, clothes and holidays that do not reflect their supposed income. Now we see young adults who are owned by organisations, working to pay off drug debts, and, even worse, coming at an arranged time, often driven to the appointed place by a loved one, to be beaten, maimed or shot. It seems as if those gangs do so without fear. I have regularly challenged the PSNI about who runs Northern Ireland. Is it the lawless —?

Mr Catney: Will the Member give way?

Ms Bunting: Pat, if you do not mind, I will keep going. Thank you very much.

Is it the lawless or the lawful? There is no question: the gangmasters and their minions consider themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. The problem is that that view can be reinforced by delays in the justice system. Unquestionably, the slow pace of the system, in a society that demands immediacy, contributes to the context in which there are those who reach the end of their tether and approach the paramilitaries for swift justice in the form of an assault or the threat of one.

Thankfully, we are seeing a change in views. The grip is loosening. Recent DOJ statistics show a 46% decrease in the view that paramilitary assaults are justified in certain circumstances. Moreover, 68% of those living in mainly loyalist areas and 62% of those living in mainly republican areas disagree that paramilitary groups keep the area safe. People are seeing through them. Long may that continue. The communities have had enough; they have found their voice and the strength to say, “Enough”. Now it is the responsibility of politicians, the PSNI and the courts to come in behind them with support, investigations, convictions and adequate sentencing. If people are to come forward, often at great risk to their safety and that of their family, they must feel that the support, protection and follow-up will be worth that risk. Otherwise, the fear and coercion will re-establish itself and the information will run dry.

Clearly we are beginning to see some fruit from the Ending the Harm campaign. However, it is imperative that that work is not undermined by statutory agencies and Departments, including, but not limited to, councils, the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Often, as has been stated, the gatekeepers in a community are afforded access to senior officials in those organisations whom the average citizen is not.

Mr Speaker: Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Mr Givan: Will the Member give way?

Ms Bunting: I will give way.

Mr Givan: Does the Member agree with me that Newry and Mourne council, for example, really should include tackling paramilitarism in its action plan, and that the fact that it has not sends out the wrong message?

Mr Speaker: The Member has one minute extra.

Ms Bunting: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

That is right. All councils should be considering it in their community plans.

The average citizen is not afforded such access. That in turn serves to underscore and legitimise their credibility and standing. That is equally applicable to the Parades Commission. I have raised this matter directly with it: we cannot, on the one hand, expend millions of pounds to reinforce the message that paramilitarism will no longer be tolerated and that our society must move on and desist from the glorification of terror, whilst having that message being entirely undermined annually by the IRA’s D company parade in Belfast, which sees participants dressed as active combatants. There is a world of difference between celebrating heritage and history, as we are all entitled to do, and the glorification of a terrorist campaign.

Undoubtedly, there are those who have turned their lives around —

Mr Speaker: Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Ms Bunting: I will do, Mr Speaker.

— and who now use their influence to show young people that there is a better way. They should be assisted. I welcome the results achieved by the paramilitary crime task force. I urge it to follow the money, and I urge the Minister to bring forward the criminal finances legislation —

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up.

Ms Bunting: — to allow those involved to be fully resourced to bring those individuals to justice and —

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up. Thank you.

Ms Bunting: — those gangs to an end.

Mr Lynch: As a member of the Policing Board, I support the motion and the amendment. The motion is too narrow in its scope. Tackling serious criminality is not solved by police alone. However, they have an important role to play. These criminal groups and their activities are mostly embedded in communities that also suffer social and economic problems, including poverty, unemployment, educational underachievement, drug and alcohol addiction and poor mental health. The IRC report that was published late last year stated that that will require the twin-track approach that was set out in the first report: a policing and justice response side by side with a fundamental and sustained tackling of underlying problems in those communities where criminal networks operate. The Chief Constable also confirmed at a recent Policing Board meeting that there is a need for an input from all relevant agencies. The IRC report goes further:

“The comprehensive tackling of”

criminal gangs

“must become an expressly stated and dedicated outcome of the Programme for Government”.


8.15 pm

Where the police play an important role is in providing neighbourhood policing and implementing a key theme in the policing plan: policing with the community. That is done by building the relationship between the police and the community. By adopting that approach, the PSNI can demonstrate that they understand the needs and problems of the community. PCSPs play an important role, working with partners and communities so that the PSNI can help to make a positive difference to improve the lives of communities and individuals.

There is evidence to support the benefits of a sustained policing presence in communities in preventing crime and enhancing community safety. People feeling safe and having confidence in policing encourages cooperation with the police in the provision of vital information and the reporting of crime. That is an essential building block in the process of tackling criminal gangs.

If we take the example of Limerick, which was blighted by gangland crime some years back, community policing was particularly successful in building a better relationship between the gardaí and disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In a 12-month period, figures showed a marked and continued decline in violent crime. There was also a twin-track approach in Limerick. The chief executive of Limerick County Council coordinated a programme to address the issues of social exclusion in the city. As a result, Limerick is a much safer city today. The twin-track approach is fundamental if tackling organised crime is to be successful.

Mr Storey: I thank the Member for giving way. I have listened to his comments on talking to the police. I find that interesting, given that he did not come very clean about his actions in 1986. He went to jail, obviously, for his part. Equally or more worrying is a comment in the book that has been published by Mr Kelly, in which Mr Adams says, about telling the truth:

“There may, of course, be omissions in how the story is told. How could it be otherwise? I’m sure Gerry [Kelly] has no wish to go back to prison, or to be responsible for others going there. I certainly wouldn’t blame him for that.”

If we are going to have a twin-track approach and if we are going to tell the police, when will we have the truth about what everybody was involved in so that those who feed off our society have no justification for looking up to some people as though they were local heroes?

Mr Speaker: The Member has one extra minute.

Mr Lynch: I note the Member’s remarks, but I do not agree with them.

There is a need to empower and support communities in resisting and rejecting paramilitary control. Sinn Féin agrees with the Independent Reporting Commission’s recommendation, as set out in its most recent report, of a multi-layered approach to tackling serious criminality, including effective criminal justice responses along with community empowerment and a systemic and sustained response to the socio-economic issues experienced in the working-class communities on which the gangs prey.

We totally reject those who continue to engage in criminality, intimidation and control and give full support to the agencies working to close down criminal networks and activities. I call on the Minister of Justice to ensure that the PSNI and other agencies and community responses are supported and properly resourced to allow them to increase their efforts to address ongoing criminality.

I understand that these issues are complex and ingrained in the fabric of communities. They require new, dedicated outcomes in the Programme for Government. That is the best way to achieve success in ending criminality.

Mr Frew: I welcome the motion. As was mentioned earlier, the crime motions that we have before us today tell a tale about Members and how they have their fingers on the pulse of the community.

We have a responsibility in the House, as elected representatives, to be role models and to show society how we can behave, what we should tolerate and what we should not. It is not good enough to justify actions of the past when actions of the same ilk happen today. It is not good enough to say that it was in the past and that it was OK then but is not OK now. It is not in the past. There are victims and survivors who live with this on a daily basis. It is not in the past. It is there day to day. Even if you come out and say that it is not right to bomb up a street, a town or a busload of workers and you condemn that now, does it not undermine your argument and is it not hypocrisy and duplicity when you go the next night to some shindig to celebrate a prison break or tell stories about taking a round in the leg when you were getting chased by the RUC and you managed to nip over the border?

There is an onus on all of us to tell people fairly and squarely that terrorism is wrong. It has always been wrong. It wrought death and destruction on our people. You are not any great saviours of your people; in fact, you hurt your own. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It is not in the past, because it is happening now, and it is challenging the whole House. We have a Finance Minister who just will not say the words, “Paul Quinn was not a criminal”. The Finance Minister does not get it. It is not what he said years ago, in 2007, which really did slur the family and hurt them deeply. It is not what he said then; it is what he is not saying now. It echoes and hurts the —.

Mr McNulty: I thank the Member for allowing the intervention. Paramilitarism has left scars on families and communities. Will the Member agree that paramilitarism, criminality, coercive control and intimidation are wrong and always were wrong? Will the Member also agree that there is no place in the House, 22 years after the Good Friday Agreement, for anyone to give cover to blatant paramilitarism and coercive control and, by so doing, further victimise victims such as Paul Quinn and his family?

Mr Speaker: The Member has one minute extra.

Mr Frew: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree perfectly with that statement. I commend you in the SDLP not only now in the days and hours that we are in this place but for the years when you took the abuse in republican areas and from republican representatives for standing strong and saying that violence was wrong. I commend you for that: violence is wrong.

I will centre on hope — hope for the future. We are all moving on and getting older, but we are seeing a younger generation of politicians. I say to those politicians now, especially those from the party opposite, that there is an issue that undermines the House. Of course, the debate is raging in the Republic of Ireland also, because that party might glimpse a bit of sovereign power, and, of course, that is a dangerous place for the Republic of Ireland to be. I plead with the younger Members of Sinn Féin to take away the shackles of the army council, to remove the coercive control that you are all under from the bogeymen in the shadows and to cut that loose and concentrate on pure politics to make our society better. You have the power, and you have the choice, if you choose to take it. I hope that you do, because no one else can do it but you. It is not right to condemn the actions of others and then say that it was OK in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. It was not.

To the young members of Sinn Féin I say, “Do not fall for the spin of the glorification of terrorism”. There is no glory at all. There is no glory in being on the run. There is no glory in lying on the concrete floor of a safe house with no company but your conscience after you have done an act of criminality and terrorism. There is no company and no glorification in that. There is no glorification in being an informer and telling your agents all the information you know. It is true that terrorism was beaten in this place. It is true that the security forces strangled terrorism to the point where it could not operate. That is why we got a peace process. We should have known, when, only weeks after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, prisoners got out of prison with clenched fists and “Yo-hos”, what we were going to be in for and the prolonged period of terrorism and criminality that we have had to face ever since. We want to see an end to it. There can be no toleration of it. It must end now.

Mr O’Toole: Initially, I was to speak in favour of the amendment tabled by my party colleagues, but, since we are in the fortunate position of everyone in the House agreeing with the amended motion, I do not have to do too much to convince people. When I wrote my remarks on the motion and our amendment, I naively imagined that it would not evolve quickly into a debate about the past in this place. Of course, in a sense, it is not entirely wrong that people talk about the past because, as we know, the past is intimately related to the present. However, in the spirit of discussing the amended motion, the broad scope of the motion put down by Doug Beattie and others is to be welcomed. The amendment that we have tabled offers a specific analysis of the context in which paramilitarism and criminality continue to thrive in communities across Northern Ireland. It also, as my colleague Patsy McGlone said, details specific additional powers that should be quickly deployed to address this scourge on our society. I know that the Justice Minister is already thinking about how they can be deployed quickly.

In the last few weeks, we have talked a lot about how these institutions need to win the confidence of people here. We know that we need to manage resources better. We know that we need to deliver public services. We know that we need to focus on real, meaningful change to people’s lives, not just to the lives of those in our particular tribe but to everyone’s lives. If we are serious, we must recognise that too many working-class communities in Northern Ireland are forced to live under the heel of paramilitarism or, more specifically, criminal gangs.

Mr Stalford: I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I take him back to the comments of my colleague Ms Bunting about the way in which senior officials — whether it is the Parades Commission, the Housing Executive, the institutions and organs of the state — who engage directly with paramilitaries will never live in the communities that he describes. They will never live in the communities in which those paramilitaries operate. They rub shoulders with them and then get to go home to nice, middle-class communities where they do not have to deal with the behaviour of paramilitaries.

Mr O’Toole: I agree in part with what my constituency colleague said, and I will go on to talk a little about that. He is right, in the sense that working-class communities at the forefront of conflict are not people, to put it bluntly, like all of us, certainly not like me. I confess to being someone who did not live at the forefront of conflict. That is why there is an even greater onus on those of us in the House to deal with the issues that confront working-class communities.

We are 22 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, as several Members mentioned. The Assembly and Executive, sporadic though their functioning has been, are products of that agreement, and our existence is a good thing. However, if we are honest, many of the benefits of the institutions and our imperfect peace have not flowed to the working-class communities that were on the front line of the conflict. Too often, those communities remain under the coercive control of criminal elements who are either explicitly associated with paramilitary groups or are controlled by former members. Other Members, including my colleague Patsy McGlone and Doug Beattie, detailed vividly the activities of those blinged-up brigadiers who go into their community, demand obedience and inflict nothing but misery.

I agree with Doug’s original motion that the PSNI and law enforcement agencies must be resourced, and I welcome the more explicit public backing given recently by other parties in the Assembly to the PSNI recruitment campaign. However, we cannot pretend that ongoing paramilitarism and criminality exist in a vacuum. They are, to use a phrase that used to be familiar in this place, inextricably linked to the vulnerability of communities with high deprivation and low opportunity. Our amendment acknowledges that intersection and offers a more explicit suggestion for hitting the gangs where it hurts: in their pockets. Unexplained wealth orders are already available to the National Crime Agency, but they need to be made available to the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.


8.30 pm

Paramilitary violence was always wrong. It always inflicted the greatest harm on the poorest and most vulnerable communities. That is still the case today. The glorification of violence is a problem and is wrong. We are nearly five years on from the Fresh Start Agreement, which pledged to end paramilitarism. Of course, we had the action plan, which came out a year later, and several other Members have detailed that and how it has been stalled by the absence of these institutions. We are one year on from the appalling murders of Ian Ogle in east Belfast and Lyra McKee in Derry.

Mr Catney: I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that paramilitaries still control communities through fear and exploitation? That is evidenced by the fact that, over the past year, the numbers of paramilitary shootings are up by 46%, paramilitary assaults are up by 9% and bombings are up by 12%. Meanwhile, arrests are down by 22%. Does the Member agree that strategies are failing and that three years of stagnation has not helped matters and has allowed paramilitaries to gain a stronger foothold in society?

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up.

Mr O’Toole: Thank you very much. I will conclude my comments at that.

Mr Speaker: I call Andy Allen, and I thank the Member for agreeing to take the final two minutes.

Mr Allen: Thank you, Mr Speaker. As you outlined, I have only two minutes, so I will attempt to keep my comments concise and to the point.

As we heard from Members across the Chamber, individuals are masquerading as paramilitaries. They portray themselves as defenders of communities and as heroes, but that could not be further from the truth. They are nothing but cowards. They are criminals. They prey on the most vulnerable in society to create lucrative criminal empires that put profit in their pockets. As communities and political leaders, we must do more, and, collectively, we can do more. We can educate our communities not to support these criminal individuals by purchasing their knocked-off goods and advise them to turn their backs on the drug dealers and those who rule communities through fear.

I would like to quickly point to the murder, in my constituency, of Mr Ogle, which was mentioned by my friend, a Member for East Belfast, Ms Bunting. He was a family man and an east Belfast man through and through, and he was savagely and barbarically beaten and stabbed to death by individuals who portray themselves as protectors of our community. They left a man dying and bleeding, with his life ebbing away while they ran into the dark. Are those defenders of our community? Certainly not. I served in Afghanistan, where real men have gone. Those individuals are not real men; they are cowards. They prey on the vulnerable in our communities.

I would also point quickly to restorative justice. I have seen it in action, and it can help some of our vulnerable young people to move away from the clutches of paramilitary gangs. It can help them to move away from those brigadiers that my colleague Doug Beattie mentioned, who send out those young, vulnerable foot soldiers to do their bidding, while they profit from the misery of others. We can and must do more. Our actions need to speak louder than our words. It is OK. Across the Chamber, we can easily condemn bombings and shootings and highlight statistics, but behind those statistics are families, individuals and people who have had their lives ruined.

I pay tribute to the Ogle family, who have stood head and shoulders above the criminals. We need to support them in the days ahead. I call on the Justice Minister to review our bail system and to look at how we can tighten that up, because individuals are being released, and in our malign society, we see paramilitaries being able to come out and intimidate families and witnesses.

Mr Speaker: I call on the Justice Minister to respond. The Minister has 15 minutes.

Mrs Long (The Minister of Justice): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Members who tabled the motion and amendment and allowed us to have a debate about something hugely important.

Paramilitary groups continue to exploit communities in Northern Ireland and to harm people through their criminality and coercive control. They destroy lives and hurt the people whom they so often claim to represent. It is right that we discuss the issues together and how we can make our community a safer and better place.

It is over 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, yet, unfortunately, despite the passage of time and the progress that we have seen made during the intervening years, paramilitary groups remain active and involved in activities that inflict serious harm. The brutal reality is that that includes murder. Andy Allen, Joanne Bunting and Doug Beattie raised two paramilitary-related murders in my constituency: that of Robert McCartney and that of Ian Ogle. The two families lived just yards apart. They both lost a loved one and, after that, continued to suffer victimisation at the hands of those responsible. I have met members of both families and will be meeting the Ogle family again later this month. I want to hear their concerns and respond to them if I can. I also met the family of Paul Quinn, whose pain on the loss of their son has been compounded by the smear attached to his name. I take this opportunity to call on anyone who has any information on any of those murders, or on the other paramilitary murders that have happened in our community, to cooperate with the police and bring those responsible to justice.

Sadly, another constituent of mine was named in this debate. I will reference just briefly the murder of Adrian Ismay. I will also mention David Black, after the targeting of prison officers from within prison was mentioned by Robbie Butler. That was raised in the context of the separated regime that exists in the Northern Ireland Prison Service. I assure Members that the Prison Service remains committed to finding ways in which to address what are very challenging issues associated with the operation of the separated regime. It remains committed to keeping people safe, both within and outside the prison, not least prison officers, who are on the front line.

Paramilitary activity in our community involves beatings, attacks meted out to vulnerable members of the community, drug dealing, intimidation and racketeering. More often than not, the activity is driven by sheer greed, with disdain for the safety and welfare of the public, as Andy Allen rightly noted. We must not normalise it as an accepted part of Northern Ireland life. Paramilitarism is about making money by controlling and exploiting communities, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The law enforcement response led by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the laws, policies and processes relating to the criminal justice system supported by my Department are clearly an important part of the response.

Equally, to view paramilitarism as an issue to be addressed solely through a law enforcement response is to take a narrow approach and one that is unlikely to address all the issues effectively. Paramilitarism is a legacy of our troubled past in Northern Ireland, and there are many interlinking and systemic factors that need to be addressed so that, collectively, we can enjoy a society free of paramilitaries, their structures and their influence. That is a complex task, and it means facing up to hitherto divisive and difficult issues on a collaborative basis. It requires not just a strategy but political leadership in the Chamber and in local communities. As Members will know, the work has already begun through the Executive action plan, ‘Tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime’. The plan was the Executive’s response to the Fresh Start Agreement and to 38 separate recommendations made by an independent panel. Although the work was coordinated by a team in my Department, it is a cross-Executive effort to address both the harm caused by paramilitarism and the underlying issues that make individuals and communities vulnerable to their influence.

Activities under the action plan are delivered using four mutually reinforcing approaches: long-term prevention; building capacity to support transition; building confidence in the justice system; and strategies and powers to tackle criminality. I will touch on each briefly. Delivery partners are drawn not only from Departments but from a wide range of statutory, voluntary and community organisations, because it is by working together on that basis that we can make an impact.

I turn first to long-term prevention. That is aimed at creating a society in which paramilitarism has no place, and it involves supporting vulnerable people, particularly our young people, who are at risk of harm from paramilitarism and criminality. It is delivered through intensive mentoring and support, boosting the integration and rehabilitation of people with convictions, promoting public awareness and resistance to issues such as so-called paramilitary-style attacks, and empowering teachers and youth workers to support young people who may be most vulnerable to coercive control. A very positive example of work focused on steering individuals away from harm is the Probation Board-led Aspire project, which delivers interventions for young men aged 16 to 30 who are marginalised in communities and at risk of becoming involved in criminality and paramilitarism.

It is delivered in partnership with a range of organisations, such as NIACRO, Barnardo’s and accredited restorative justice organisations. Peer mentoring, with targeted support for employment, training, housing, health and social services, is involved.

An initial evaluation of findings demonstrated the positive impact that it has not only on the young men themselves but on their families and communities. Similarly, the START programme run by the Department of Education and the Education Authority with community work organisations provides intensive support to young people who are at risk of involvement with or harm from paramilitary activity. It has had a significant impact on the lives of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into serious offending by paramilitaries who seek to exploit them. Those examples and the long-term-prevention approach more generally highlight the importance of addressing the varied factors that affect an individual’s vulnerability to paramilitarism and organised crime, which was referenced by Gerry Kelly and others in their contributions. It is about improving educational attainment and employability, ensuring that mental health support is available, addressing issues around alcohol and substance abuse and working together better in early intervention, tailoring support to individual needs. The nature of the challenge is such that we have to work together across the Executive if we are to meet our ambitions.

The second approach is about building capacity to support transition. We need to develop capacity among individuals in communities and our society as a whole to resist paramilitary influence. Delivery in this area includes the role of women in community development, creating opportunities for children and young people and better aligning our efforts in places impacted by paramilitary control. The Department for Communities and other community partners, for example, lead on the Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT) programme by supporting women to improve their skills in areas such as leadership, mentoring, peace building and personal development. The Executive Office also delivers a broad range of projects designed to build community capacity as part of its Communities in Transition work.

It is important that, collectively, we take a more coherent, consistent and holistic approach to tackling paramilitarism by enhancing community resilience and providing the space in which new voices can be heard. Paul Givan, in particular, raised the issue of the police and other statutory agencies who are required, in certain circumstances, to engage with people in the community who set themselves up as gatekeepers. Whilst we recognise that people who have former paramilitary links are members of the community and have a right to express their opinions, it should be on the same basis as everyone else. It is important that we do not reinforce that status of gatekeeper for those who have coercive control over communities, and we should be mindful that engaging with them can send out negative messages to those who would otherwise want to help the police by providing information and cooperating with their inquiries into paramilitarism. Political leadership is necessary to invoke change and enable us to engage with communities in a way that bypasses those gatekeepers. The aim is not to exclude them from having their view heard but to ensure that they do not control who else can be heard. I welcome the strong statement to that effect by Andrew Muir, in particular, on that issue.

There are two other thematic approaches under the Executive action plan relating to the criminal justice sphere, one of which is building confidence in the justice system. We know that the pace of justice can impact on victims and witnesses who have been affected by paramilitary or criminal activity. It can affect communities who, understandably, want to see paramilitary offenders dealt with speedily by the courts. Central to that approach is work by my Department to speed up the justice system, and part of that will be through the reform of committal proceedings. It is a legislative priority for me, and I trust that Members will wholeheartedly support it when it is put before the Assembly later this year.

Other partners such as policing and community safety partnerships and community planning partnerships actively integrate concepts around lawfulness and confidence in the rule of law into their daily outputs. Paul Frew and Matthew O’Toole, as well as others, rightly said that historic narratives could have a crucial role on those engaged in or vulnerable to becoming engaged in paramilitarism today, and we should not let the past cast a shadow over the current and future arrangements. This provides a solid basis by working through those community organisations, to have a better understanding of how paramilitarism affects communities and to help inform our long-term responses.

Mr Beggs: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Long: I want to get through this, and I am quite short for time.

The final thematic approach is about strategies and powers to tackle criminal activity. The key delivery partner here is the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF), which was set up in 2016 as a dedicated investigative capacity to tackle all forms of criminality linked to paramilitarism. Along with the PSNI, the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs, it has proven to be a valuable additional capacity and has delivered a number of operational successes over the years. In tandem, bespoke organised crime legislation is being developed as a means of enhancing the existing framework that criminal justice partners can draw on in seeking to bring offenders to justice. There are other important multi-agency collaboration structures in place to help tackle serious organised crime, including that related to paramilitarism.


8.45 pm

The Organised Crime Task Force, for example, which is coordinated by my Department, provides a forum for strategic leadership in response to organised crime, bringing together key law enforcement partners as well as providing a forum for engagement with other Departments, statutory agencies and a number of expert-led groups. A joint agency task force provides an important mechanism for law enforcement to work in partnership with their counterparts in Ireland to tackle criminality on both sides of the border.

Patsy McGlone and others referenced the issue of introducing unexplained wealth orders and the commencement of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 here. The commencement of those new asset recovery powers is a priority for me. I want to see legislative consent for the 2017 Act achieved before the summer and full commencement of the powers before the end of this year. I want to ensure that the unexplained wealth order powers, and other powers under the 2017 Act, are available to the relevant enforcement agencies, so we are going to take forward the work to ensure that we can achieve the legislative consent of the Assembly as a matter of priority. Those measures, along with others already available under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, are important. They hit the criminals where it hurts: in their pockets. More than that, they help send a powerful message, particularly to those who may be vulnerable, that crime will not pay. That in turn helps reinforce community confidence in the justice system.

I am already reviewing specific powers to tackle organised crime in Northern Ireland. That was another action under the action plan for tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. Unlike in other jurisdictions, there is no explicit legislation in Northern Ireland to tackle serious and organised crime. We have therefore reviewed several legislative models and worked with law enforcement to develop draft proposals for Northern Ireland. They include offences of participating in and directing organised crime, as well as aggravated offences.

Today calls for the proper resourcing of the PSNI and other agencies to address paramilitarism. Other Members — I think Seán Lynch in particular — also emphasised the importance of community-based policing. The action plan has provided additional funding to a wide range of bodies, including the PSNI, and the nature of the funding reflects the complexities of the issues at hand. However, the current funding period for that action plan finishes in March 2021, so I hope that I have Members’ support as I go to my Executive colleagues for continued funding.

As I have outlined, paramilitary influence is still a feature of day-to-day life here for some communities. That is not acceptable. We have to continue to challenge attempts by paramilitary groups to control people and communities and recruit into their ranks. We have to provide better prospects for young people who feel as if there are no alternatives. We must take every opportunity to develop individual, community and societal resistance to paramilitary influence and criminal harm, and we have to be open to new ideas and approaches about how we can develop the action plan. We also cannot shy away from the fact that it needs to be underpinned by a fundamental positive shift in areas such as good relations and continuing to work against sectarianism. Clearly, this must remain a shared task across the Executive and Assembly.

In conclusion, I support the motion and the amendment. In doing so, I reiterate the need to continue to work on a collective, cross-Executive basis as a priority in our Programme for Government to tackle the wider issues so that we can reach a point where paramilitarism and its structures are confined to a very dark chapter in our history books.

Mr Carroll: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is plainly in contravention of the most basic elements of democratic debate to have a discussion like this and not call a single Member from a non-Executive party. What does the Executive have to hide when it comes to paramilitarism?

Mr Speaker: I do not understand your question, because the Executive do not determine the time that the Assembly meets and discusses any business. The Business Committee, which represents most of the parties, sets the time for these debates, not the Executive or anybody else. Nobody is being excluded from debate here.

I call Dolores Kelly to make a winding-up speech on the amendment. She has five minutes.

Mrs D Kelly: I acknowledge the cross-party support for the amendment and the motion and thank the Members who took part in the debate. I particularly want to acknowledge the presence of the Ogle family in the Public Gallery, and the bravery of many families who have stood against paramilitarism: those of Paul Quinn, in particular, and Robert McCartney and Lyra McKee. What we see is the coercive control and silence — the omertà — that prevents witnesses from coming forward. It is never too late to come forward. I ask anyone who still has information to give it to the police to help them with their investigations and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The motion, the amendment and, indeed, the Justice Minister’s response demonstrate the need for a collaborative approach and for political leadership. Many commentators and participants in the debate acknowledged that we as an Executive and an Assembly have a crucial role to play in supporting those who suffer the most and who have been left behind. Twenty-two years on from the Good Friday Agreement, people are still suffering from the violence, extortion, blackmail, drug dealing and criminality of those who call themselves paramilitaries.

Many Members acknowledged the difficulty that the separated prison regime causes and the messages that it can send out. I note that the Justice Minister said that she is doing some work on that. I acknowledge the additional cost of such a regime to the prison and the public purse of, I think, some £3 million or £4 million annually, which has not been funded by the Treasury. No doubt, the Finance Minister might take that up in his deliberations with the Treasury over the coming days and weeks.

Unexplained wealth orders would go a long way in providing confidence to communities and to people who want to step forward. It is not enough today to just have unexplained wealth orders. We also need to look at the financial resources available to other paramilitary combatants in the past, at the affront to democracy across this island that we do not go after criminality and organised crime gangs right across society and at all those who have benefited, both today and in the past, from large-scale smuggling, waste management crimes and all those systems, as Andrew Muir so eloquently put it, that the British Government in particular turned a blind eye to.

Most, but not all, Members recognised the importance that former paramilitaries can play in transitioning. Andrew Muir also mentioned David Trimble’s quote:

“Just because someone has a past does not mean they cannot have a future”.

We all want to work towards enabling those people, who, as Christopher Stalford said, made a decision to engage in acts of violence, to transition, but environmental and other factors played a role in their getting involved, not least poverty and deprivation. Therefore, it is important that we help people across the community to make the shift from violence to being a positive influence in our communities.

Other Members talked about the Assets Recovery Agency. A challenge was laid down that it should be reinstated in Northern Ireland. I do not think that we would be opposed to that. We all know that over 40 criminal gangs are operating in Northern Ireland alone. The establishment of the NCA in Northern Ireland was the right thing to do, and the SDLP, in particular, played a key role in providing its code of ethics and accountability mechanisms to the Policing Board. At this point, I acknowledge that I am a member of the Policing Board. We played a key role in establishing the NCA here, but we worry that its resources are spent going after the larger international criminal gangs and that it does not have sufficient focus here in Northern Ireland. That is why the Assets Recovery Agency played such a critical role.

I thank Mr Frew in particular for his acknowledgement of the SDLP’s consistent opposition to violence, both in the past and today.

Mr Speaker: Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Mr Buckley: Will the Member give way?

Mrs D Kelly: I have 10 seconds.

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time will be up.

Mrs D Kelly: Yes. I acknowledge the positive contributions, and I hope that today shows that we are giving political leadership in the challenge to tackle paramilitarism in all its forms.

Mr Nesbitt: I thank all the contributors and caution that I am unlikely to give way as I do not think that 10 minutes will be sufficient for my comments.

I want to begin with the terminology, because we are all being very polite calling these groups “paramilitaries”. That is the way that they are organised, but it is not their intent or their purpose. Their intent is terrorism. To prove it, let us look at the Terrorism Act 2000, which states:

“‘terrorism’ means the use or threat of action where … the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public”.

I think that describes admirably all the groups that Doug Beattie listed when he opened the debate.

Terrorism is an absolute, as in it is absolutely wrong, and if, as some Members have done, you stray by saying that it is justified by the circumstances, you create a problem, because you may say, “Well, the circumstances have changed, so terrorism is no longer justified”, but others do not. Others say, “Oh no, the circumstances still justify”, and that is when groups like the New IRA murder people like Lyra McKee.

I am very glad to hear support for the idea that terrorism is an absolute, from people like Andrew Muir of Alliance, Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP and Paul Frew of the DUP. Paul went on, of course, to remind us that the IRA hurt its own, by tarring and feathering, kneecapping and taking coercive control of its community. That is not something that we hear very often from the Benches opposite, although in the ‘Shared Ireland’ podcast that I did with Linda Dillon, I was glad to hear her acknowledge the hurt and the legacy in her community that the IRA created.

This is not an attack by me on the IRA. Newtownards is the main town in my constituency, and we have every shade of unionist terror group, including the south Antrim UDA. What is it doing at the top of the Ards peninsula? Mr Muir made clear the impact of this, as the number of people that have been intimidated out of their homes in recent years has doubled because of those groups.

In moving the motion, Doug Beattie gave us a list of the terror groups, the attacks and the assault weapons. He reminded us that these days it is all about extortion, coercion, drug dealing and community control, and he gave the example of the murder of Ian Ogle. Of course, he also, rightly, reminded us that the House rejected his plea to change the segregated prison regime, leading to the ridiculous situation where a criminal goes in convicted of criminality only to assume the role of a brigadier of a terrorist organisation.

In moving the amendment, Patsy McGlone focused on unexplained wealth orders and the cracking down on what he called “Mr Bling”. He reminded me of a friend who is a BBC producer who took his wife for a meal one night, and in came a very well-known loyalist “brigadier” with his entourage and sat at the next table. My friend got quite excited because he thought, “This guy has no idea who I am. I am a behind-the-scenes, faceless producer; perhaps I am going to learn a lot about this organisation”. He did learn a lot, because they spoke very freely, comparing the local gymnasia, talking about the best holiday destinations and where to buy the best men’s clothing. That was their motivation for being in their paramilitary or terrorist grouping.

There was an intervention from Dolores Kelly about the need to establish the truth from the past. But I remind her that, perhaps, the primary source of wisdom on that was the Consultative Group on the Past, the Eames/Bradley group, which stopped talking about truth recovery and said, “No, we have to talk about information recovery”. If we have a body like the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, we must be aware that the terror groups are less likely to tell the real truth of what happened to people’s loved ones and much more likely to tell you what they want you to think. They are responsible for some of the grossest human rights abuses, and they are embarrassed, and they will want to rewrite history to try to write those human rights abuses out of memory.

Gerry Kelly focused on socio-economic deprivation, and I do not disagree with him, but I have to say this to somebody like Mr Kelly: if you supported the IRA, you cannot blame others for socio-economic deprivation without acknowledging the deliberate economic carnage that the IRA inflicted with its bombing campaigns over three decades.

Joanne Bunting talked about the scandal of paramilitarism continuing 22 years on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. I could say to her, “Yes, and 26 years on from the ceasefires”. She underlined Patsy McGlone’s analysis that people’s motivation to be in those groups is for their personal lifestyle.

She gave us statistics for the number of people living in such communities who say, “We no longer want those groups — the paramilitary, terrorist organisations — to do what they claim they’re doing, which is to keep us safe. Those days have gone.”


9.00 pm

Hansard may prove me wrong, but I tried to listen to Seán Lynch very carefully, and I believe that he used the terms “crime”, “criminal” or “criminality” no fewer than 15 times. I say to him that these things are absolute: if it is criminality today, it was criminality in the 1970s, it was criminality in the 1980s and it was criminality in the 1990s.

Matthew O’Toole, making, I think, his first contribution on the issue since joining us in the House, declined the opportunity to discuss and dwell on the past; rather, he focused on the inextricable link between socio-economic deprivation and the suffering of communities at the hands of these groups.

Andy Allen, in a short but passionate contribution, talked about the need to educate the community. There is always a temptation that the paramilitaries offer a bargain. Do we not all like a bargain? However, they are not bargains. People are being sucked in to promoting and helping to establish, fulfil and fuel these terrorist organisations. I admire Andy because, as he said, he served in Afghanistan, where he almost made the ultimate sacrifice. For him to call those people cowards has a moral authority that I could never deliver.

The Minister, Naomi Long, talked about the need for a systemic approach to tackling the issues. She spoke of the need not just for a strategy but for political leadership: I agree with her. She dwelt at length on the Executive’s action plan and its four strands. I listened carefully to the Minister, but I have to say — I do so with respect — that all I heard was about the inputs of government. There was nothing about the impact, and there were no outcomes. I suggest to the Minister that the victims — the people who are under the coercion of the paramilitary organised terror groups — are interested only in outcomes, not in the structures, strategies or systemic approaches. They want to see action that leads to outcomes that get these people off their backs.

I thank all the contributors. It has been a mature debate. We have discussed the issues in some depth. I thank Members. I thank my colleagues for tabling the motion. I thank the SDLP for the amendment, which absolutely adds value, and I am happy to support it. There is, however, another group whom we should be hearing from tonight. The people we should really listen to are in the Public Gallery. We should listen to the Ogles and hear what they have to say. I look forward, after the debate, to listening to them sharing their views on what, they think, has been achieved in the past hour and a half.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to.


That this Assembly recognises that many communities across Northern Ireland are still living under siege from paramilitary gangs; reiterates its total rejection of those who continue to engage in criminality, intimidation and coercive control; gives its full support to the agencies working to close down criminal networks and activity; acknowledges that paramilitarism is being used as a cover for profiteering criminal gangs; further recognises that addressing the pervasive influences of poverty, deprivation and lack of opportunity in working-class communities across Northern Ireland is critical to releasing the grip of criminals; and calls on the Minister of Justice to introduce unexplained wealth orders to allow the PSNI to disrupt and dismantle these gangs and to work with her Executive colleagues to fully resource the PSNI and other agencies to eradicate the influence of paramilitarism.