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Northern Ireland news

We will not be played says new group tasked with tackling paramilitarism

Chief executive of Co-Operation Ireland Peter Sheridan has vowed that new group consortium, which is dedicated to wiping out the scourge of paramilitarism, won't be double played over money. Picture by Co-operation Ireland, Press Association
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

A new group dedicated to wiping out the scourge of paramilitarism won't be double played over money, its leader has vowed.

The consortium, headed by Co-operation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan, is looking for "ambitious and innovative ideas" that will persuade Troubles-era gangsters to turn their back on criminality.

But the former senior police officer has insisted there will be no slush fund for pet projects.

"We are not going to be double played," he said.

"We are not going to allow ourselves, as a consortium, to be taken along for a ride by some groups or organisations that think somehow they will get funding out of this and they can do nefarious activities at night time.

"This is public money and we are not going to allow ourselves to be double played around this."

The consortium, which was set up in October, is a key element of a strategy included in the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

Some £50 million has been ring-fenced for programmes over five years.

Although a final figure has yet to be determined by the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board, it is anticipated the transitioning communities budget could be £12 million.

Mr Sheridan said: "We are looking for innovative, ambitious initiatives; new thinking, new ideas from groups, organisations and individuals that they can see from their particular area's perspective would help shift their community on from being either under the control of or being subservient to paramilitary organisations.

"We will then, as a consortium, use our best expertise to make an assessment of the ones we are going to recommend to the Executive Office.

"We have no focus on the funding at the minute. We will bring forward what we think are the best ideas however big they are – should that add up to £50 or should it add up to £50 million.

"We will put that on the table and it is up to the Executive then to make decisions around where that is."

As well as Co-operation Ireland, the consortium includes field workers from the Mitchell Institute at Queen's University, Incore at Ulster University and the Institute for Conflict Research who will work to identify a transition plan for eight areas in Belfast and beyond.

Part of that work will mean talking to paramilitary crime gangs as well as community groups, churches and others.

Mr Sheridan added: "We will engage with people in paramilitary organisations. But people who want to transition.

"We are not engaging with people in paramilitary organisations who want to remain connected to organised crime, gangsterism and criminality.

"We will engage with people who genuinely want to move on."

The eight areas were identified through academic research that assessed the number of paramilitary attacks, levels of intimidation and other factors.

They include the New Lodge and Greater Ardoyne in North Belfast; Lower Falls, Twinbrook, Poleglass, Upper Springfield, Turf Lodge and Ballymurphy in the west of the city; the Shankill (upper and lower) including Woodvale in West Belfast; The Mount and Ballymacarrett in East Belfast; Brandywell and Creggan in Derry; Drumgask and Kilwilkie in Lurgan; the Larne area including Antiville and Kilwaughter as well as parts of Carrickfergus such as Northland and Castlemarra; plus Clandeboye, and Conlig, including Kilcooley in Bangor.

The Government's 43 point action plan to tackle paramilitarism also includes a Paramilitary Crime Taskforce, assembled to combat all forms of criminality including attacks, extortion, intimidation, drug dealing and money laundering.

Another element of the Fresh Start Agreement strategy on paramilitary activity was the establishment of the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) which started work earlier this year.

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