Roy Beggs MLA’s contribution to the debate on ‘Ending All Forms of Paramilitarism’


Eighteen years after the Belfast Agreement and the end of the conflict, why do we have any paramilitaries? Why are there any still around? That is a fundamental question. I thank NICVA, which, in partnership with The Detail, has used the open data that is becoming available — we need more open data from government — to highlight the scale of paramilitary activity over the past number of years in its report on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, which Richie McPhillips mentioned earlier. Some 80 convictions have been secured; there have been 22 murders and almost 4,000 reports of people being forced from their home; and 8,500 arms and 495 kg of explosives have been seized. They must all go away or be forced to go away. Time is marching on, and I believe that it is time for additional resources. My colleague Doug Beattie mentioned his disappointment that, of a potential £10 million, only £3·8 million has been drawn down. Surely, more could have been done, given the time that has passed and the time that there has already been to plan how to tackle the problem.

The PSNI believes that some 33 organised criminal gangs with direct links to paramilitaries operate currently. Are they paramilitaries or are they organised crime gangs? I am afraid that the distinction is not seen by anyone who faces their wrath. There have consistently been about 50 dissident republicans and about 50 loyalists in prison over the past number of years. Why are there any? There should not be any paramilitaries. Clearly, we need additional specialist resources to address —

One of the suggestions is that we need to draw in additional specialist resources. Additional community policing, with the support of the PSNI and the community, has been mentioned as a way to make sure that the community is policed. It is important that we draw in specialist support from the National Crime Agency, which has experts. Often, the agency has not looked at crime gangs because they are just below the threshold at which it would become involved. Why is some of the money not being used to help the police to draw in that specialist expertise to follow the money, do detailed surveillance and identify those who are involved in organised crime? That is my disappointment.

There is a very evident difficulty with a rise in paramilitary activity in my constituency. Over the summer, we had the public massing of a mob in a dispute between sections of the breakaway south-east Antrim UDA. In 2014, there was a 70-strong mob with hammers, swords and golf sticks out in public in daylight showing a very public face of paramilitarism, which is normally underground. They are challenging the law and the justice system, and we, as a community, need to respond.

Like Sammy Douglas, I have been contacted by many members of paramilitary groups who want to leave. However, regrettably, once they join, they are not allowed to leave and are coerced. In my constituency, those in the south-east Antrim UDA have already got the message that they must turn up at an event or get a beating. We talk about gang masters, and there is a degree of that going on here. Those at the top who have the power and money do not want to give up that money and power. We, as a community, must draw on all the public resources to follow the money and undermine those who are at the top and controlling people often against their wishes, just like the Mafia does.

There are still the paramilitary murals. Good work has been done in the Re-imaging Communities programme, but, sadly, additional paramilitary murals have been erected in recent times. There is the one in Greenisland. There is also a very public one in the Craigyhill estate, the south-east Antrim provost gunman, which has been a blight on that community for several years. We, as a community and a Government, must do something to address that. There is very weak community infrastructure in many of the disadvantaged communities where paramilitaries operate. There needs to be community planning in a manner that draws in all the public agencies —

the Churches and members of the local community to address the needs of those communities, so that no one group controls any community, we draw everyone together to address the needs of the community, and we remove the paramilitaries through policing and the creation a positive alternative.


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