The Alliance Party has welcomed a significant decision by Ards and North Down Borough Council Committee to tackle the poison of paramilitarism, winning backing for a proposal aimed at eradicating their control over local communities despite DUP and TUV objections.
The move follows the tabling of a motion by Alliance and Green Parties plus Independent Councillor Noelle Robinson after the recent publication of Co-operation Ireland's Building Capacity in Communities in Transition report, which focused on the on-going problems and control exercised by paramilitiaries in Kilcooley, Clandeboye and Rathgill areas. The independent report from the Institute of Conflict Research was produced following consultation with a range of stakeholders and stems from Northern Ireland Executive's Action Plan to tackle paramilitary activity.
The agreed motion is now subject to ratification by full Council on 24 October 2018 and both condemns paramilitary activity and requests that Council officers bring back a report on the recommendations made in the recent Co-operation Ireland report.
Speaking after Ards and North Down Council Committee meeting, I stated "Whilst I would agree with many that other areas should have been considered, the areas concerned were identified and a report has been produced with clear stark recommendations to take forward. Take forward we must because to do anything other would, I feel, be a gross dereliction of duty as public representatives elected to office with a specific obligation to reject proscribed paramilitary organisations and a public duty to show leadership.
"The call to action from the report is clear, especially when you read findings such as "residents continue to feel intimidated and threatened by the physical and material presence of paramilitaries in their communities; particularly when it takes the form of exploitative recruitment practices, aggressive drug-dealing and loan-sharking. Interviewees report a general lack of positive political leadership and effective civic engagement in the Council area which undermined the capacity of communities to subvert paramilitary influences".
"Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement this should not be the case. Paramilitary groups should not still be in existence and controlling local communities. Political leadership against their continued existence should be universal, absolute and unequivocal. Whilst I was bitterly disappointed to see a shameful abdication of responsibility by DUP and TUV who voted against taking action, preferring instead to repeat same hollow words of condemnation, I'm thankful for the support from the Ulster Unionist, Green, SDLP parties and hopeful full Council will endorse the decision to help break the stranglehold paramilitary organisations have on communities in our Borough".
Also speaking, Alliance Councillor Karen Douglas stated "Residents within our community, the overwhelming majority of whom are law abiding citizens want elected representatives to take action against the small number of self serving paramilitary criminals who are terrorising local communities. It is not enough to call paramilitaries out without backing it up with some action. Not to act, makes these hollow words. As elected representatives we have a duty to support local residents and to tackle the scourge of paramilitarism. They have no place in our community and are not wanted. Time for action is now. No more lip service. Council should not be a talking shop; it's time for us as elected representatives to stand up with residents in the community and take action against paramilitarism. Not to do so, would be a dereliction of duty. Its time for councillors to act and not just talk.'
Wording of motion passed "That this Council notes the Fieldwork Report from Phase 1 – Building Capacity in Communities in Transition (Kilcooley and Rathgill) and clearly reiterates the message that all criminality, organised crime and paramilitary activity is completely unacceptable in our community and requests that officers bring back a report in relation to the recommendations made."
Building Capacity to Support Transition in Kilcooley and Rathgill Report available at http://www.cooperationireland.org/programmes/community-programmes/building-capacity-in-communities-in-transition/fieldwork-reports/