The Irish Times view on paramilitaries in Northern Ireland: a stark warning

Ending paramilitarism will require far more than police and security investment

Lyra McKee, the 29-year-old jouranlist who was killed by dissident republicans in Derry in April. Photograph: Jess Lowe/EPA

Lyra McKee, the 29-year-old jouranlist who was killed by dissident republicans in Derry in April. Photograph: Jess Lowe/EPA

 

The findings of the Independent Reporting Commission into paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland are a stark warning that violence and the threat of violence remain a serious risk to peace and reconciliation. In its second annual report the body, which was established as part of the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015, also warns that Brexit has the potential to add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism. The commission also points to the negative impact of the suspension of the Northern Executive since January 2017.

What has been done in Limerick, in particular, demonstrates the transformational progress that can be made in tackling seemingly intractable issues around criminality and gangs

The report notes that while there has been a downward trend in paramilitary violence over the last 10 years, the number of deaths linked to paramilitary organisations and the number of paramilitary-style attacks carried out since the commission’s first report in October of last year has increased. These deaths include the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee by dissident republicans in Derry in April and the killing, by loyalists, of East Belfast community worker Ian Ogle in January. There have also been a number of attempts by dissident republicans to kill police officers.

Ian Ogle in 2013. Photograph: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker
East Belfast community worker Ian Ogle in 2013. File photograph: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

An important feature of the report is that it emphasises the need for a whole-of-society approach to ending paramilitarism. That is why it is so important that political leaders engage fully in this process. The report points to educational under-attainment in particular areas as one of the important contributors to paramilitary activity.

With the aid of independent consultants, the commission examined three case studies, in Glasgow, Limerick and Manchester. They demonstrated the value of a whole-of-system approach to tackling similar issues. What has been done in Limerick, in particular, demonstrates the transformational progress that can be made in tackling seemingly intractable issues around criminality and gangs.

The report makes a persuasive case for a determined approach combining good policing and justice interventions with a comprehensive tackling of the socio-economic issues involved. Community buy-in is essential and that is why good political leadership is so important.

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