Time for a ‘whole of government’ approach to ending paramilitary criminality?

More than a year after the slaughter of Lyra McKee in Derry, Kieran Wylie was shot dead in his home in Lenadoon this week in front of his two daughters. At the same time, journalists are getting threats from loyalist and dissident paramilitaries.

He’s not the first to be gunned down like this. Without anyone being consulted we seem to have arrived at a latter-day policy of an ‘acceptable level of violence’ as regards a paramilitary culture that continues to thrive in our most disadvantaged communities.

Instead of direct government action, we have the ‘politics of condemnation’ just so long as the violence stays in the impoverished heartlands which bred the original this culture of ‘resistance’ in the first place. The search for Lyra’s murderer remains a distant hope.

The Independent Reporting Commission in its first and second reports outlines clear “criminal justice responses needed to end paramilitarism and criminality”. It recommends targeting criminals, rather than disrupting the lives of their victims.

To echo a former Labour Prime Minister it boils down to tackling paramilitaries, and the causes of paramilitaries.  The IRC recommends both supportive measures such as tackling poor education outcomes but also more direct putative measures.

It also points out that it needs a whole of government approach with someone senior in Stormont being accountable for the restoration of normal justice procedures, on a basis of criminality rather than under the heading of political suppression.

When police deliver a threat against journalists or indeed many others their lives are turned upside down. But, as we’ve seen in the past, when the police do go direct they run the risk of losing political cover from politicians who represent such areas.

When it gets serious, some politicians have a pronounced tendency to run for the hills and let the cops take the flack. Yet these “coercive controllers” are not popular with the communities in which they operate, whether loyalists or dissident republicans.

It’s can’t be left to good bottom-up community work.  The IRC recommends top-down pressure via recovery of assets, unexplained wealth orders, and new offences to tackle organised crime alongside a transition process for those wanting out of the business.

If there’s no policy, there’s no political will nor any serious intent to tackle the misery that the good people in many of Northern Ireland’s most deprived wards struggle to get through on a day by day basis.

Perhaps it is time to put the whole of government approach we’ve witnessed to Covid 19 to other long term issues from one of the most shaming legacies of the Troubles and unfinished business of the Belfast Agreement? Or we could at least try to have the debate.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA