Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Third Report


58. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are summarised below:

    (a)  On 6 March 2001, Mr Denis Haughey MLA, Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) commented:

"Government wishes to meet the real identified needs of victims strategically, so that we do not leave gaps in provision. 'Programme for Government' confirms the commitment to putting in place a cross-departmental strategy and detailing precisely how government will tackle the important areas of victims. This will result in the adoption of a service-wide, systematic approach to making life better for those who have suffered. We are also committed to improving services offered to victims by April 2002, a challenge which requires the active support of all departments and all public bodies ...."

We welcome this general commitment made on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive. The needs of victims of paramilitary intimidation should be a key element in formulating strategy and delivering services and the voices of the victims should be heard. (Paragraph 8)

    (b)  As a precursor to improving the response to the problem of relocation following paramilitary intimidation, there needs to be a significantly more accurate definition of the extent of the problem, and the pattern of relocation. It is clear from the evidence that there is at present no reliable overall information on this, although organisations providing assistance may have a good insight into these matters within their own sphere of activity. What needs to be done, though, is to bring these together and consolidate them. The new computerised database being developed by the RUC may well have an important part to play in this. There is also a need to seek to fill the gaps in the information pattern, given the general agreement that there is under-reporting in the official statistics. (Paragraph 22)

(c)  Concern has been expressed in the Northern Ireland Assembly, that when paramilitaries force unconvicted drug dealers from their homes, as a result of the intimidation they go to the top of Housing Executive lists for re-housing. We are pleased to note that the Minister recognises the unacceptability of this situation, and welcome the fact that he proposes to bring forward legislation in the Assembly to deal with this problem. (Paragraph 27)

(d)  Another potential difficulty which must be avoided is re-housing those displaced from their homes in a way which unnecessarily reinforces existing housing patterns. At all costs, it is important to ensure that, in re-housing those displaced, the objective of the paramilitaries in many cases, of creating areas homogeneous in their allegiance, is not assisted. In this context, we note the concerns expressed by Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan about the role of the RUC in advising the Housing Executive. Housing homogeneity appears to be a particular aim of the loyalist paramilitaries as in the case of the loyalist feud in parts of Belfast last year. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has drawn attention to the fact that there may often be a discrimination dimension to intimidation. We note that the section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 imposes on public authorities a broad duty to "have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group." We recommend that the Housing Executive issues a statement indicating how it takes account of these important new duties when deciding how and where to re-house victims of paramilitary intimidation. (Paragraph 28)

(e)  The Base 2 figures provide a useful breakdown, which reveals that a significant proportion of those approaching NIACRO for assistance because they perceive themselves to be under threat of paramilitary action are not apparently under any such threat. We recommend that a study be made of the reasons why this is so, and of the basis for their perception. (Paragraph 36)

(f)  NIACRO told us that it has arranged for an independent review of Base 2 services by Professor Harry Mika of the University of Michigan. We understand that this is nearly complete and we look forward to seeing a copy in due course. (Paragraph 37)

(g)  In the light of the evidence we have received, we consider that there is a case for a more formal system of co-ordination in Great Britain of assistance to those forced to move there from Northern Ireland. An Anti-Intimidation Unit, as proposed by New Dialogue, might have a part to play in this. We also invite the Northern Ireland Executive to review the scope and effectiveness of the co-ordinating arrangements in Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 39)

(h)  Improved co-ordination, though, is not, in our view, sufficient. There is also a need for greater advertising of the assistance available, so vulnerable people, forced from their homes, know where and who to turn to. A substantial number turn to NIACRO and its Base 2 services and we commend what this project has achieved to date. However, these are, deliberately, the subject of only limited publicity. We recommend that the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, in their respective areas of operation, take steps to ensure that information on the support services available to those forced from their homes is made widely available to bodies likely to come into contact with such people, and that these bodies are encouraged to be pro-active in passing it on. (Paragraph 40)

(i)  We welcome the development by NIACRO of its programme to support re-entry of persons previously excluded. We also welcome the assurances we were given that this did not involve coming to an agreement with paramilitaries on particular cases, although Maranatha had experience of other cases where payments had been made. We would be very concerned about any actions, however laudable their motivation, which in effect gave express or implied recognition to illegal actions of paramilitaries, or appeared to legitimise their purported contribution to law enforcement. (Paragraph 44)

(j)  We utterly condemn any activity by groups on either side of the community that is aimed at intimidating people into leaving the Province, or into relocating within the Province. The evidence we have received demonstrates beyond peradventure the misery caused by such illegal activity. There can be no justification for such conduct in a civilised society committed to the defence of internationally agreed human rights standards. (Paragraph 48)

(k)  We welcome the steps being taken to seek to eliminate this practice. We wholeheartedly commend the excellent work being done by voluntary bodies, such as the Maranatha Community, to assist those forced to relocate to Great Britain. We also commend the work of NIACRO in relation to those under threat of punishment beatings. We note that there are working links between these two bodies, and with other voluntary sector groups. We believe that these should be encouraged. (Paragraph 49)

(l)  We welcome also the clear commitment by the RUC to tackling this problem. It described the position thus:

"There is no doubt that intimidation in general and especially those cases where individuals are forced to flee their homes is a significant problem and one we treat very seriously. It is also a difficult problem to detect and prevent unless there is real support from the wider community in the areas in question."

We agree that this problem will only be overcome when the community as a whole rallies behind the forces of law and order. We hope that the forthcoming changes in the police force in Northern Ireland will create a climate conducive to this, and enable the progress made to date by the RUC to be built on. (Paragraph 50)

(m)  Our evidence also shows some of the difficulties faced in tackling the problem. It is vital, though, that it is not simply ignored. As Professor Kennedy commented:

"Turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the problem of paramilitary domination of certain areas, including the practice of exiling, is a gross betrayal of some of the most vulnerable, powerless and disadvantaged members of our society."

He also said:

"We need to break the silence, at all levels of society here. There has to be a fundamental debate about the gravity of the problems posed by paramilitary organisations in this society, in relation to children, individual adults, families and communities. The governments in Belfast, Dublin and London have a major responsibility here. So also do the media and community groups."

We agree, and hope that this Report might provide a focus for such a debate. Greater publicity for the activities of paramilitaries in terms of human rights abuses, driven by closer attention being given to the problem by organisations and groups concerned with human rights in the Province, could clearly play a significant part in this process. (Paragraph 51)

(n)  While it is undoubtedly the case that not all those subject to intimidation are paragons of virtue, arbitrarily and summarily cast out of the community in which they live, to the concern and dismay of their neighbours (a claim frequently made by apologists for paramilitary 'law enforcers'), this is not the point. It is a fundamental tenet of human rights law that "in the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing .... by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law", to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law and to specific rights in relation to their defence. However serious the allegations against them, everyone is entitled to these protections: the summary 'justice' of the paramilitaries is a contempt of these rights. (Paragraph 52)

(o)  The problem is inextricably bound up with the legacy of thirty years of terrorism and a recent Royal Ulster Constabulary report provides evidence that a majority of the organised criminal gangs operating in the Province have current or historic links to republican or loyalist paramilitaries. The single greatest contribution to tackling the problem of paramilitary exclusions will be enhanced public confidence in the rule of law. By itself, though, this is unlikely to be enough. The influence of the paramilitaries will have to be weakened generally. The new Organised Crime Task Force, and the promised crackdown on organised crime, will have an important part to play in this. Measures to tackle the economic deprivation that appears to have provided the paramilitaries with fertile recruiting grounds may also be relevant. (Paragraph 53)

(p)  As Mr Ingram observed in the Parliamentary Answer quoted earlier in this Report, paramilitary intimidation is more easily stopped when all members of the community stand together. Another key element is that the police are in a position, which they are not at present, to produce in court sufficient credible evidence in relation to identifiable individuals to secure convictions. To improve the current position, Professor Kennedy called for "a campaign of support for the police, where most of the political parties, accepted their responsibilities to support just and fair policing." We support this call. (Paragraph 54)

(q)  We are convinced that there is a need for a greater degree of focus and co-ordination on the very real problems faced by those forced from their homes by paramilitary intimidation. At present there appears to be no clear public policy on how to handle this difficult human problem, which is one of long standing. In this context, it is perhaps noteworthy that a 1991 report from the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body drew attention, amongst other matters, to:

  • the importance of assistance to young people coming from Northern Ireland as a result of paramilitary activity receiving further study and support;
  • the problems of acceptance and assimilation which may be faced in Great Britain by members of the unionist community, who regard themselves as 'British' rather than 'Irish'; and
  • the need to improve information for those coming to major British cities from Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 55)

(r)  The cross-departmental strategy being developed by the Executive should improve focus and co-ordination in respect of those relocating within the Province. However, a mechanism is undoubtedly also needed to help improve arrangements in Great Britain. At present, no one agency in Great Britain has responsibility for policy on this issue. We recommend that the Government take steps to establish a focal point with responsibility for co-ordinating both the development of policy in this area and the activities of government departments and agencies, local government and other bodies, including statutory bodies and voluntary associations. Such a focal point could also bring together representatives of all the bodies and groups concerned, with a view to seeking to draw up guidelines aimed at ensuring that victims of paramilitary intimidation forced to come from Northern Ireland to Great Britain receive appropriate assistance and support (paragraph 56).

(s)  One of the functions of this Report is to highlight the plight of victims of paramilitary intimidation, particularly those forced to leave their homes, and the need for a more supportive response to this largely hidden legacy of the Troubles. In view of the seriousness of the problem of paramilitary intimidation in Northern Ireland, we recommend that this Report, and the relevant Government responses, be further considered by the House. (Paragraph 57)

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