Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has vowed that a new cross-border state agency will be “relentless” in its pursuit of IRA groups and loyalist paramilitaries.
McGuinness and the DUP First Minister Peter Robinson travelled to Dublin before Christmas to launch the new security crackdown.
The agency formed part of last month’s ‘Fresh Start’ deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein along with the Dublin and London governments. It came in response to unionist demands for action on allegations over the continued existence of the Provisional IRA arising from the murder of two former PIRA figures in east Belfast earlier this year.
With an initial budget of around fifty million pounds, the new ‘crime task force’ will focus on capturing and jailing any former Provisional IRA members engaged in illegal activities.
Mr McGuinness said: “Criminality is a scourge on our communities, north and south, and we must be both united and relentless in our pursuit of these criminals.
“This joint agency task force provides renewed energy, focus and additional mechanisms for us to work collectively for the greater good of people across the island of Ireland.”
In one of his last acts as First Minister, Mr Robinson said it was an “important milestone”, while 26 County Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said the agency was “an unmissable opportunity to free communities from the toxic grip of ruthless criminals”.
The meeting took place following the conviction of prominent Louth republican Tom Murphy on tax offences. The conviction of Mr Murphy, a Sinn Fein supporter who has been accused of funding the Provisional IRA through cross-border smuggling, is understood to be an early example of the kind of cases to be pursued by the new cross-border agency.
However, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said his party still rejects any political agenda to criminalise the Provisional IRA, and has condemned Mr Murphy’s trial before the juryless Special Criminal Court. Martin McGuinness also lent his support to Mr Murphy and accused political rivals of “mind-boggling hypocrisy”.
He said: “Over the course of the last number of days we have seen people politicking on this issue. Why are they doing this? It’s the election, stupid.
“Let’s get real here. Let’s understand what we have achieved in the north of Ireland over the last 20 years is nothing short of amazing. That’s what the world tells us.
“That amazing (outcome) would not have happened without the support of people like Tom Murphy.”