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MPs urge twin track approach to tackle paramilitarism in NI

1 February 2024

  • Northern Ireland Affairs Committee publish report on the effect of paramilitary activity and organised crime in Northern Ireland
  • MPs back public-health approach to reduce drivers of paramilitary activity
  • UK Government should guarantee funding to bring PSNI numbers to 7,500

MPs on the cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee have endorsed a twin-track approach to tacking paramilitarism in Northern Ireland; bringing together a public health approach and stronger criminal justice measures, in a report published today.

The Committee’s report follows a 22-month inquiry into the effect of paramilitary activity and organised crime in NI.

Strengthening criminal justice in NI

The UK Government should provide Northern Ireland with the funding necessary to bring the Service up to 7,500, as committed to in the New Decade, New Approach deal that briefly restored Stormont in 2020, the report recommends.

But subsequent budget cuts and the financial burden of data leaks, is likely to see the force shrink to 6,193 by April 2025.

The PSNI told the Committee that planned cuts are expected to lead to 75 fewer neighbourhood officers and 96 fewer serious crimes detectives, conceding that their responsiveness would be impacted.

Low prosecution rates of violent crime in NI is singled out in the report as an issue which discourages people from reporting crimes and allows paramilitary groups to ‘act with impunity’. The Committee calls on the UK Government to work with the Executive to help improve clearance rates for paramilitary-style attacks. It also advocates Westminster supporting the NI Department of Justice to take a ‘safeguarding approach’ to the issue, opening the way to more convictions of those involved in paramilitary activity on the grounds of coercion, modern slavery and child criminal exploitation.

Public health approach

Over the inquiry, MPs heard that among the driving forces for the continued existence of armed groups are deprivation, mental health issues, and psychological trauma, while murals glorifying violence can retraumatise communities.

The Committee calls on the UK Government and the Executive to commit to a new system of ‘trauma-informed practice’, and to address the socio-economic drivers of paramilitary activity such as deprivation. It also wants the Government to guarantee existing annual funding, and commit to longer-term investment, for the Executive’s Tackling Paramilitarism Programme.

Among the issues the Committee is keen to see addressed are coercive control of women in the voluntary sector, and the exploitation of children.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Buckland, said:

“Investigation of crimes and intelligence gathering are in the bread and butter of tackling paramilitarism. With that in mind, it’s concerning that while police numbers in England and Wales are set to rise by 20,000, the PSNI’s workforce is in decline. This is a service depended upon for safety by communities still dealing with persistent paramilitarism. It faces a budgetary black hole, but it is one we can ill afford not to fill.”

“A fully staffed PSNI would help investigations, but prosecution rates for violent crimes must also climb if we’re to weaken the coercive power paramilitary groups have over the communities they operate in and encourage people to report crimes. We need to change the criminal justice mindset and prosecute paramilitary groups for coercion, modern slavery and child criminal exploitation.”

“However, without addressing the longer-term draws to such groups’ continued activity, we will not eradicate the scourge of paramilitarism. Deprivation needs to be tackled, with better access to universal credit, and we need a consistent approach to vetting the recipients of public funding, to ensure that taxpayers’ money goes to people who are genuinely committed to eradicating paramilitarism from Northern Ireland.”

“Fortunately, with positive moves towards the restoration of the Executive, we could soon see the essential vehicle for tackling paramilitarism back up and running.”

Further information

Image credit: Parliamentary Copyright