A panel has been appointed by Sinn Fein and DUP Ministers to develop a strategy to disband the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups.
The panel was one of the key components of last month’s so-called ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement. It is to be made up of John Alderdice (pictured), former leader of the Alliance Party, Monica McWilliams, a founding member of the Women’s Coalition, and practicing solicitor John McBurney. The trio will report back to the Executive before the end of May 2016.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said: “I have repeatedly challenged armed groups and criminality over many years and today we send out another strong, united message there is absolutely no place for armed groups or criminality in our society.”
The DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said the panel would “point the way in which we as a society can remove their scourge”.
In October, the British government published an assessment by its military intelligence of armed groups still operating in the Six Counties. Among its findings was that the Provisional IRA remains in existence alongside the breakaway IRA groups, as well as the loyalist paramilitary UVF and UDA.
Jim Allister, leader of the hardline unionist TUV, said the panel had “zero credibility” as it was investigating paramilitarism while being “appointed by a party linked to that very paramilitarism.”
Sinn Fein has increasingly distanced itself from those former IRA Volunteers accused of involvement in illegal activity. One prominent republican named in court as being a senior commander in the Provisional IRA was this week convicted of tax offences in the 26 Counties.
Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy has long been accused in the media of having helped fund the Provisional IRA by smuggling across the border. He was found guilty this week at a special non-jury court of failing to make tax returns from 1996 to 2004.
The 66-year-old, whom the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, described as a ‘good’ republican, will be sentenced in February. The case received blanket media coverage in the 26 Counties this week.
State-run television reported the story as the main news of the day, while the Irish Independent devoted its front page to the case, exulting at the conviction of “Gerry Adams crony ‘Slab’ Murphy”.
“Mr Adams’s failure to distance himself from a convicted criminal will heap pressure on him and his party so close to the election,” reported Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.
In a statement, Mr Adams said he was aware of the reports of the judgement, noting that Mr Murphy remained on bail and continued to contest the accusations. “I have no comment to make until the legal process has been concluded,” he said.