Stormont crisis: Villiers appoints panel in paramilitary review

Group will judge PSNI assessment of IRA’s status in bid to break deadlock in North

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

The Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers has appointed a panel to help assess the status of the IRA and other paramilitaries as talks continue at Stormont aimed at breaking the impasse over the IRA and welfare reform.

Ms Villiers yesterday announced the names of the three members of the one-off panel that will review the PSNI assessment of the current status of the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

They are Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, former senior Northern Ireland civil servant Rosalie Flanagan and Northern Ireland lawyer Stephen Shaw QC.

Credibility

Ms Villiers announced the independent review last Friday to enable DUP leader Peter Robinson to lead his party into all-party negotiations which finally began on Monday.

Mr Robinson had demanded that some form of measure be taken in relation to PSNI chief constable George Hamilton’s assessment about the status of the IRA before he would agree to participate in the talks.

Lord Carlile, Ms Flanagan and Mr Shaw are to provide a “factual assessment” on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland based on information provided by the PSNI and MI5.

Their report, which is due by mid-October, will help inform the politicians as they deal with the fallout from the murder of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan last month.

PSNI chief constable Mr Hamilton assessed that some IRA members were involved in the killing although there was no information that it was sanctioned by the IRA leadership.

Sinn Féin rejected Mr Hamilton’s assessment and insisted the IRA has “gone away”. MLA Conor Murphy said yesterday that the panel was unnecessary.

“Nothing and no one can be allowed a veto over the democratic process. Sinn Féin is in government on the basis of our electoral mandate,” he said.

Welfare reform

Traditional Unionist VoiceJim Allister

He added, “should the panel re-echo the assessment of the chief constable, will the DUP finally acknowledge, after eight years of trying to keep a fatally flawed system on track, that they were wrong to go into government with a party which remains inextricably linked to terror”?

Meanwhile, a series of roundtable and bilateral talks were held at Stormont House yesterday with these discussions continuing today.

The focus yesterday was on addressing how the deadlock over welfare reform might be broken.

Ms Villiers has insisted that there is no more money from the British government to alleviate the effects of UK-wide welfare cuts on welfare recipients in Northern Ireland.

The deadlock has resulted in a £600 million (€830 million) “black hole” in the Northern Executive’s budget which could leave Stormont financially unsustainable in the coming weeks.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP, after first accepting the Stormont House Agreement pulled out of the deal, saying they could not accept welfare change.

SDLP Assembly member Alex Attwood called on the British government “to change the script from no more money for welfare to more money for work.

“The three pillars of government - Belfast, Dublin and London - should together support pillars of economic development, skills, infrastructure, childcare and jobs. London has to get on the page and change its script,” said Mr Attwood.