At the same time, the Programme works with people at-risk of paramilitary influence, coercion and violence. This includes young people, men, women and the community; to fix paramilitary harm in the here and now, protect victims, address issues and provide appropriate help and support.
The Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015 sets out the Executive’s commitment to tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime. An independent three-person panel, also known as the Fresh Start Panel was set up in June 2016 to make recommendations on the disbandment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. In response to the Panel’s recommendations, the Executive published the Action Plan on 19 July 2016.
The Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board was established to set the strategic direction of the cross-Executive work; to make decisions on implementation, delivery and funding, and monitor and report on progress.
The Board is chaired by the Interim Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Jenny Pyper, and includes senior officials from the Department of Justice, Department of Communities, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Finance, the Executive Office and the Northern Ireland Office. Police Service of Northern Ireland attends in an advisory capacity.
Political Advisory Group
The cross-party Political Advisory Group comprises representatives of the 5 Executive Parties in Northern Ireland. Primarily, the Political Advisory Group facilitate a collaborative, problem-solving approach to help maximise opportunities and bring about societal transformation and systems change in order to tackle paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime. Quarterly meetings chaired by the Justice Minister, Naomi Long, provide a mechanism for updating members on progress on the strategic delivery of the Programme; providing a forum for members to problem solve on key issues and offer advice and feedback.
The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) was created under the Fresh Start Agreement, to monitor progress on tackling paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. The independent body comprising Mitchell B Reiss, Tim O’Connor, Monica McWilliams and John McBurney, consults with a range of statutory bodies, communities and civic society organisations to deliver an annual report on the implementation of measures to tackle paramilitarism.
“A number of delivery sub-groups have been established to ensure a joined up approach to delivery across Departments, statutory bodies, voluntary and community sector representatives.”
For Phase 1 of the programme (2016/21) £50 million was provided to the programme (£25 million each from the NI Executive and the United Kingdom Government) and was allocated to various projects to support the delivery of the 38 commitments in the action plan.
The Programme has been extended for 3 years to 31 March 2024, the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme Board has confirmed funding which will be awarded on a yearly basis for the 2021/22 year.
To undertake Phase 2 of the cross-Executive work, a one-year financial settlement of £13 million for the Programme has been provided. These funds will be allocated to a range of specific projects under the programme. In addition, the Communities in Transition project was awarded £10 million funding for the next three years, providing three years of surety for community based interventions.
Phase 2 (2021/2024): Planning for Delivery
Phase 2 of the Programme runs from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2024.
Following a review of Phase 1 of the cross-Executive Programme, it was decided to move to a benefits management approach for Phase 2. This new approach requires delivery partners to communicate and measure how their projects contribute to a range of benefits (i.e. how they influence positive changes), which the Programme aims to achieve. To find out more details about Phase 1 of the Programme and next steps, you can view the review paper here.
For Phase 2 the overall programme outcome is: ‘Safer communities, resilient to paramilitarism, criminality and coercive control’.
The two over-arching objectives for Phase 2 of the Programme are:
- Workstream One: People and communities are safe from the harm caused by paramilitarism’;
- Workstream Two: People and communities are more resilient to paramilitary influence and involvement in paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime.
Phase 2: Agreed Projects
The Programme Board considered the range of proposals. The projects receiving funding from the one year are:
- Wrap project
Allocated Funding: £567,000
This is a Wrap-around, flexible education service to children and young people facing significant challenges in four existing geographical areas, known as the ‘Wrap project’. This project focusses on educational under attainment, which is key to tackling paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime and, in particular, the impact which socio-economic deprivation has on children and young people’s outcomes.
Influencing community attitudes to education and raising aspirations is key to both reducing educational underachievement and therefore tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime.
- Specialist youth services
Allocated Funding: £1,812,188
The initiatives undertaken cover a wide range of activity working directly with young people within communities who have been harmed by paramilitary groups and/or those who are most at risk of becoming involved in paramilitary activity.
This work delivers a particularly important service in a COVID-19 context when other protective factors ordinarily targeted at young people are not as readily available.
- Mid & East Antrim Support Hub
Allocated Funding: £106,979
This project involves the creation of a multi-agency youth stream of the Mid and East Antrim Support Hub to support young people who are at risk of being involved with, influenced by, or exploited by paramilitary groups.
- Belfast City support project for people under threat
Allocated Funding: £95,000
This project aims to develop, support and implement multiagency arrangements in West and North Belfast to address issues relating to victims of paramilitary groups and those under threat. This work will aim to align the work of various agencies, including community partners, to help those under threat.
Allocated Funding: £1,547,915
Aspire is an important project targeting marginalised men who are most susceptible to paramilitary / criminal influence and, therefore, most at risk of becoming involved in paramilitary or criminal activity, to help them develop alternate coping mechanisms and increase their resilience.
It will provide a dedicated Probation Team for men under PBNI supervision who meet agreed criteria; a mentoring programme for men leaving prison and for those in the first 16 weeks of community sentence; and, for men who are not in the criminal justice system, a range of community based interventions, including restorative justice approaches.
Allocated Funding: £92,000
Engage is the provision of a dedicated resource to support women who have offended and support them to make the transition back into local communities.
Working with women both in custody and in the community, Engage builds resilience and equips women with the skills and learning to withstand paramilitary influence when they exit the criminal justice system.
- Fresh Start Through Community projects
Allocated Funding: £606,000
These projects will promote lawfulness and active citizenship to individuals, and build capacity and relations within communities.
The Conflict Resolution projects work with hard to reach/at risk young people, their parents/carers and those in the community to address issues like anti-social behaviour to develop community ownership and capacity building.
Fresh Start Through Sport uses engagement through sport for those on the edges of the youth justice system who are vulnerable to paramilitary harm and influence. The Conflict Resolution projects work with young people and those in the community to address issues like anti-social behaviour.
- Enhancing the learning and well-being outcomes of people in separation
Allocated Funding: £211,000
This project will progress the development and implementation of specific interventions to prepare prisoners with links to paramilitary groups for return to society and to assist with their reintegration. It will be informed by local, regional and international practice relating to supporting the reintegration of prisoners associated with paramilitarism, political violence and terrorism.
- Developing interventions to support community reintegration among paramilitary related offenders
Allocated Funding: £50,000
This project will develop and implement specific interventions to prepare prisoners with links to paramilitary groups for return to society and to assist with their reintegration. It will be informed by local, regional and international practice.
- Committal Reform
Allocated Funding: £214,801
Committal Reform is designed to enable a transformational change to the criminal justice system by removing cross examination of injured parties from the process in the Magistrates Court and speed up the justice system by directly transferring specified cases to the Crown Court at an early stage. This project supports the delivery of those changes.
- Developing women in the community
Allocated Funding: £375,000
The programme will target women of all ages in communities where paramilitary influence is prevalent. The focus will be on empowering women with the confidence to become involved in transformational community development, helping to support communities to move away from paramilitary activities.
Skills to be developed and shared may include: Confidence & Self Esteem, Personal Development, Self-Awareness, Leadership, Communication Skills, Teamwork & Collaboration, Problem Solving, Role of Women within families/communities, and Women and peace-building. The programme will also include an element of family support and the opportunity to volunteer.
- Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF)
Allocated Funding: £5,721,000
The PCTF is a Law Enforcement Task Force consisting of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), The National Crime Agency (NCA) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This partnership allows each Agency to share resources, capacity and capability with the singular aim of frustrating, disrupting and dismantling paramilitary organised crime groups through a robust law enforcement response; thereby contributing to making people and communities safer from the harm caused by Paramilitarism.
- PSNI – Community safety and engagement
Allocated Funding: £140,000
This initiative will look to support local interventions that enhance problem solving around issues impacting on the community, and that promote engagement with, and visibility of, policing.
This initiative is designed to complement the activities of the PCTF, as the PSNI recognises that in order to deliver safer communities a security and criminal justice approach alone will not suffice.
- Monitoring of offenders
Allocated Funding: £65,000
This project will provide support for the development and mobilisation of a new delivery model to assess and manage the risks posed by terrorist-related offenders in Northern Ireland. The proposed changes would allow discretion for the Department of Justice to assign supervisory responsibility to a relevant designated organisation to manage the multi-faceted risks posed by terrorist related offenders.
- Support for victims
Allocated Funding: £100,000
This initiative will aim to address an identified gap in current provision. The intention is to commission/pilot dedicated support for victims of paramilitary violence, control, and coercion.
- Longer term ring-fenced funding, of £10 million for three years, will be provided to community-based activity supported by the Communities in Transition project.
This is to sustain the efforts to build capacity and support in communities which are most impacted by paramilitary activity and coercive control. The project is led by TEO and is currently delivered in 8 areas: Derry/Londonderry; Carrickfergus/Larne; North Down, Lurgan/Craigavon; North Belfast; East Belfast; Shankill; and West Belfast. Work to date has focused on seven key emerging themes: Community Safety & Policing; Addressing the needs of young people; Health & Wellbeing; Environment & Culture; Community Development Issues; Restorative Justice & Restorative Practice; and Personal Transition.
Phase 2: Challenges
Minister Long said: “People have had to live with paramilitary control, violence, threats and exploitation for far too long. Life is hard enough without this. Families, communities and businesses are all desperate to return to normal after Covid-19 and the last thing they need is the negative influence of paramilitary gangs seeking to exert control, often for financial gain.
“Our focus, by extending and refocusing the Executive’s Programme to address paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime is to stop harm, both in the here and now and for the longer term. Through the Programme we will cut off paramilitary supply chains, whether that’s paramilitary drugs that ruin people’s lives, money-lending that leads to misery or the violence that leaves vulnerable kids shot and maimed in the street. There should never be any place for this and as a society, it’s so important we support the people who every day stop another generation being scarred in this way.
“This of course is a challenge that goes well beyond justice. It takes commitment from so many people but I am heartened by the incredible work that has already been done by so many people across the public, voluntary and community sector, often quietly and courageously, to end the harm caused by paramilitaries and those who try to cling on to their attempts to control people.
“We are operating currently in a less than ideal context, not least in light of the financial and social impacts of the ongoing global pandemic. This does not mean that we put our efforts on hold – quite the contrary – it puts an onus on us to be more creative, and to find innovative ways of delivering for those in need.”
Public awareness campaign
Ending the Harm is a hard-hitting public awareness campaign about the brutality of attacks carried out by paramilitary and criminal gangs.
The campaign, which is part of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme, is aimed at highlighting the devastating impact on victims, their families, local communities and wider society. It tells the story of a shooting from the points of view of the four people involved: the victim, his mother, the paramilitary gang member and a witness.
For further information visit the campaign website: Endingtheharm.
Or follow us on Twitter @endingtheharm