Independent Reporting Commission launches with a series of meetings in Northern Ireland
The Independent Reporting Commission, which was established under the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015 to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity, was legally constituted last month and is carrying out an intensive series of meetings in Northern Ireland this week. The Commissioners, who have been operating informally since January 2017, are John McBurney, Monica McWilliams, Tim O’Connor, and Mitchell Reiss.
The Fresh Start Agreement designed a comprehensive policy framework for bringing about an end to paramilitarism, and the Commission is an important instrument in its delivery. The IRC’s overarching objective is to promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity, support long term peace and stability and enable stable and inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland.
In playing its part to deliver the vision of Fresh Start for the “continued transformation of our society”, the Commission will report on the progress to end paramilitary activity, through criminal justice interventions alongside societal focused measures.
Among its activities the IRC will monitor progress on the implementation of the Executive Action Plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. It will be essential that delivery on this plan takes a whole of government approach and is transformational.
In carrying out its functions, the IRC will consult the Irish Government and relevant law enforcement agencies, the UK Government and relevant law enforcement agencies and, in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, other statutory agencies, local councils, communities and civic society organisations.
After a series of informal meetings over the past few months, the Commissioners are now embarking on an intensive series of meetings with key stakeholders. The IRC will report annually, or as requested by the UK and Irish Governments.
Welcoming the launch, Commissioner John McBurney said,
“I look forward to working with my colleagues on this essential part of the process of delivering Northern Ireland society into a peaceful future. While there have been challenges in recent times, the overall direction of travel in Northern Ireland remains positive, and the IRC aims to make a positive contribution.”
Commissioner Monica McWilliams added,
“The IRC will focus on promoting and supporting practical and effective measures to help end the coercive control of paramilitaries and to bring about a more peaceful society. We have embarked on a long term initiative with the full backing of both governments, local organisations and communities and we look forward to producing our first report in the coming months.”
Commissioner Tim O’Connor said,
“The outworkings of the Fresh Start Agreement, including the establishment of the IRC places the ending of paramilitarism in a comprehensive policy framework for the first time. This is important in the long term development of society on the island of Ireland, as it makes the ending of paramilitarism the official policy of both Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive. I believe that the IRC can make a significant contribution to that journey, and look forward to playing my part, along with my fellow Commissioners, in its important work.”
Commissioner Mitchell Reiss added,
“I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to play a role in creating a safe and prosperous Northern Ireland with the establishment of the IRC. I hope the Commission’s initiatives will help to bring about the continued transformation envisioned by the British and Irish Governments, the local political parties and the citizens of Northern Ireland.”
The Fresh Start Agreement, finalised on 17 November 2015 between the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government and the Irish Government, set out its overall vision as:
“Building on the political Agreements reached in the past, the progress made to date – and to ensure it continues – we reiterate the primacy and centrality of peace and the political process to the continued transformation of our society, through democracy, inclusion, reconciliation, equality of opportunity for all and the absence of violence.” (Article 1.1 of the Agreement)
A key goal in terms of the delivery of that vision was set out in Article 2.3 where signatories to the Agreement stated that “We have entered into the most far-reaching commitments ever taken here to uphold the rule of law and bring about the end of paramilitarism.”
The Independent Reporting Commission is one of the measures by which this goal is to be achieved. It will consult with a broad range of stakeholders, including Irish Government and relevant law enforcement agencies, the UK Government and relevant law enforcement agencies and, in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, other statutory agencies, local councils, communities and civic society organisations.
The International Treaty signed by the Irish and UK Government establishing the Commission requires that the Commission shall report annually to the Government of Ireland, the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Executive. The Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom may also jointly request reports on such further occasions as required.