The Detail investigative website continues to create impact by laying it out facts you might suspect the main parties have an interest in playing down with an election in prospect. Paradoxically that comparative reticence may be a form of implied cohesion between the DUP and Sinn Fein. But is it good enough? How should they respond?
From 2006-15 paramilitaries were responsible for 22 killings, more than 1,000 shootings and bombings, 787 punishment attacks, there were nearly 4,000 reports of people forced from their homes by paramilitaries, while security alerts halted more than 4,000 train services.
Police believe there are currently 33 organised crime gangs directly linked to paramilitary groups, amassing tens of millions of pounds each year.
But despite the scale of activity, the Northern Ireland Courts Service confirmed that from 2007-15 there were just over 80 convictions secured under terrorism legislation, leading to 48 prison terms.
Politically the 1998 cut-off point is working pretty well. Dealing with the Past is clearly not a first order issue which is holding back government, despite the lip service paid to victims. True the legacy can still rise up to threaten the present. But rows over the OTRs and even the IRA feud killings of Davison and McGuigan may be reducing factors. The Alderdice three person panel should lay out whether this is true or not.
In his Ard Fheis speech there was no suggestion from Martin McGuinness that the main Executive parties would be deterred from implementing their Fresh Start pledges by failure to agree on the Past. On the contrary. For many, Sinn Fein blaming the British government alone may be hypocritical but it deflects criticism from unionists and so helps Assembly cohesion.
But if the political system is coping what about the underlying impact on society from which politics cannot be insulated?
The Data argues that the scale of violence and intimidation is underestimated and points out that government is refusing to put figures on active paramilitary membership and support. Up to 40,000 ex-paramilitaries have so far failed to be “ reintegrated “ into society, its claimed.
The Detail goes on to describe the agenda facing the Alderdice panel due to report at the end of May – timed significantly for after the Assembly election. It has the challenging task of striking a balance between security and community development – in the jargon to come up with a “ disarmament disbandment and reintegration “ strategy (DDR). This will include the rejectionist groups as well as the supposedly compliant pre-1998 organisations plus loyalists who promised disbandment but haven’t done so.
But whether ongoing violence has ancient or more modern roots, whole hearted agreement within the Executive will be at premium if the parties are serious about reducing it. Will they make that clear in the remaining days of the campaign? Or will they be looking over their shoulders, more worried about cries of betrayal from the unreconstructed? The temptation for the parties to split is very strong, the DUP going all-out for “security” and Sinn Fein for “community.”
For decades community interests were stifled or confused by paramilitary loyalties. It will not take much longer for us to find out if they are being allowed to emerge authentically or are still in thrall to paramilitary forces old or new, with the connivance of the main parties .
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London