HL Deb 04 November 2004 vol 666 cc9-10WS
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On 28 October 2004 I received a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report was made under Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the commission. The report makes an assessment of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland during the six-month period March 2004 to September 2004. I welcome this report. I have considered its content and I am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Library of the House.

The IMC's report concludes that some paramilitary groups have scaled back the intensity of their activity but none has materially wound down their capacity to commit violent or other crime. Dissident republican groups are the most committed to continuing terrorism. Paramilitary violence in the form of murder, shootings and assaults has considerably reduced in the past six months but remains at a disturbingly high level. The proportionate reduction is greater on the part of republican groups. Most violence is attributable to loyalist groups. The range of paramilitary activity remains wide. Paramilitary groups from both sides remain deeply engaged in serious organised crime.

The IMC makes several recommendations in its report. The first set of these are about paramilitary involvement in organised crime. I remain very committed to addressing the issue of organised crime in Northern Ireland. Partner agencies will work with our counterparts nationally and internationally to take effective action to disrupt the workings of the criminal organisations. If criminal proceedings cannot be brought, cases will be referred to the Assets Recovery Agency to retrieve the proceeds of crime, either through civil action or through taxation. The IMC also recommends that guidance be prepared for those who have to engage with paramilitaries. This is a complex issue. I will examine the recommendation in detail.

In April, I said I would review the current suspension of block financial assistance imposed on Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party on receipt of this report. I am giving careful consideration to this and I will of course take into account the matters set out by the IMC.