UK government names members of panel to assess paramilitary activity

The British government has announced the three members of an independent panel set up to assess paramilitary activity in the North of Ireland.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a Liberal Democrat member of the Lords; Rosalie Flanagan, a former permanent secretary at Stormont’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; and Northern Ireland-based QC Stephen Shaw make up the body established as part of the UK government’s response to the political crisis at Stormont sparked by a murder linked to the IRA.

Unionist politicians had indicated their unwillingness to enter cross-party talks aimed at saving power sharing unless a full assessment of the extent of IRA structures was undertaken.

The panel is set to assess information held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), National Crime Agency (NCA) and Security Services in coming to a determination.

The panel is due to report in mid-October.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the three appointees collectively had an in-depth knowledge of security issues, legal expertise, an understanding of the North's politics and political structures.

She said they also had credibility and standing from across the community.

“I am very grateful to each of the reviewers for agreeing to take on this important work,” Ms Villiers said.

“They are all highly respected individuals. I am confident that they will bring rigour, integrity and independence to this important task.”

In the wake of Friday’s announcement about the panel’s establishment, talks involving the five main Stormont parties and the British and Irish governments started on Monday.

No major breakthrough is expected in the process until the panel publishes its paramilitary assessment.

The devolved Assembly has been thrown into disarray following the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan last month.

The 53-year-old father of nine was shot dead in Belfast in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard “Jock” Davison, 47, three months earlier.

Detectives believe some of Mr Davison’s associates suspected Mr McGuigan of involvement in his shooting.

A police assessment that individual members of the IRA were involved in the McGuigan murder prompted unionists to remove all ministers but one from the coalition Executive, claiming Sinn Féin was inextricably linked to the supposedly defunct republican terror group.

Sinn Féin has rejected the accusations and on the opening day of the talks Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness challenged political rivals making claims about Sinn Féin links to criminality to “put up or shut up”.

Prior to the McGuigan murder, the future viability of the administration had already been in doubt as a consequence of long-standing budgetary disputes, with the row over the non-implementation of the UK Government’s welfare reforms the most vexed.

The talks today are focusing on those financial and welfare disputes.

Earlier, church leaders warned that political instability in the North is hurting the most vulnerable.

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