Support is delivered collaboratively by government departments, statutory agencies and partners in the voluntary and community sector. The Programme uses a public health approach to violence reduction and is on a journey to be trauma-responsive and informed in everything it does. It draws heavily on a mix of data, expert local knowledge and international best practice to deliver innovative multi-agency initiatives.
The Programme’s overall aim is to achieve Safer communities, resilient to paramilitarism, criminality and coercive control. Through over 80 projects and interventions, the Programme is addressing complex, longstanding issues. All Programme activity supports at least one of two key longer-term objectives:
- People and communities are safe from the harm caused by paramilitarism (Workstream one)
- People and communities are more resilient to paramilitary influence and involvement in paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime (Workstream two)
Projects are subject to evaluation and progress is measured by collecting and analysing short and longer term project-level and population-level data. Continuous improvement across all activity is critical.
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 Programme was established in 2016 to deliver the Executive Action Plan. Phase 1 ran until March 2021. Phase 2 which covers 2021-2024 builds on learning from Phase 1. A comprehensive review of the Programme carried out in 2020 sets this out in more detail. The majority of the original Executive Action Plan commitments were completed in Phase 1. Those which were not but are still actionable are incorporated into various aspects of Phase 2 activity.
Scrutiny and Oversight
A range of structures ensure political and wider oversight of the Programme.
The Programme aims to deliver a whole of government approach to what is a complex and multi-faceted problem. A cross-Executive Programme Board oversees financial and wider performance in the Programme and ensures that the allocation of funding to projects support the Programme’s aims. Given the Programme’s cross-Executive nature and its links to multiple Executive priorities, the Board is chaired by the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Jayne Brady.
Senior officials from across the Executive sit on the Board (including the Department of Justice, Department of Communities, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Finance and the Executive Office). Also represented are the Northern Ireland Office and local government through SOLACE. The Police Service of Northern Ireland attends in an advisory capacity.
Political Advisory Group
Political leadership is one of six key strategic enablers for the programme. The cross-party Political Advisory Group comprises representatives of the 5 Executive Parties in Northern Ireland. The terms of reference for the Political Advisory Group commit members to adopting a collaborative, problem-solving approach and to play a crucial role in maximising opportunities to bring about the societal transformation and systems change needed to tackle paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime.
The quarterly meetings of the Political Advisory Group, chaired by the Executive’s lead Minister for the Programme, Justice Minister, Naomi Long, also provide a mechanism for members to raise issues of concern or receive briefings on thematic issues or individual projects.
The Independent Reporting Commission
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.
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 and the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme Board has confirmed the funding that will be awarded.
To undertake Phase 2 of the cross-Executive Programme, a one-year financial settlement of £13 million for 2022/23 has been provided. These funds will be allocated to a range of specific projects under the programme.
In addition, the Communities in Transition project has been awarded £10 million funding for the three-year financial period April 2021 – March 2024, providing surety for community-based interventions.
2022-23: Programme Projects
The Programme Board has agreed the following funding allocations for 2022/2023:
1. 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 initiative 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.
2. Youth Service Projects
Allocated Funding: £1,963,560
These projects provide a range of Youth Work support in partnership with the community and voluntary sector. They cover a wide range of activity working directly with young people within communities who have been harmed by paramilitary gangs 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.
3. Mid and East Antrim Youth Support Hub
Allocated Funding: £147,814
This project involves the creation of a multi-agency youth stream of the Mid and East Antrim Support Hub to support young people (up to 25 years) who are at risk of being involved with, influenced by, or exploited by paramilitary gangs.
The project will have a role in achieving a range of benefits, including, potentially, a reduction in threat to life warnings; improvement in relations between PSNI and communities; victims receiving effective help and an improvement in individual protective factors.
4. Belfast City Council 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 gangs 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 help 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.
7. Fresh Start Through Sport and Community Pilot Projects
Allocated Funding: £566,000
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.
8. Enhancing the Learning and Wellbeing Outcomes of People in Separation
Allocated Funding: £130,000
This project delivers a curriculum of learning and training opportunities to support better outcomes for prisoners in separation.
It also supports their wellbeing through the use of art, music and cultural activities; the promotion of positive family ties; and sports and skills development.
The project will contribute to reducing recidivism, increase ex-prisoner reintegration and improve the availability and visibility of exit routes from paramilitarism.
9. Committal Reform
Allocated Funding: £120,000
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.
10. Developing Women in Community Leadership Programme
Allocated Funding: £375,000
This programme will provide women with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to become influencers and take on roles such as leadership and decision making in their communities.
It will target women of all ages and be delivered within the community, in areas which have been identified as areas where paramilitary influence is prevalent. The programme will also provide the opportunity for participants to partake in a volunteering role within their community and to develop and deliver a small programme.
Provision of Family Support will be a key element of the programme. This will support the women to strengthen structures within their own families by providing guidance and support.
The focus will be on empowering women with the confidence to become involved in transformational community development and helping to support communities to move away from paramilitary activities.
Skills to be developed and shared include: Confidence and Self Esteem, Communication Skills, Personal Development, Teamwork and Collaboration, the Role of Women within families/communities, Problem Solving, and Leadership.
11. Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF)
Allocated Funding: £5,661,000
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 collaboration allows each Agency to share resources, capacity and capability with the singular aim of frustrating, disrupting and dismantling paramilitary organised crime gangs through a robust law enforcement response, thereby contributing to making people and communities safer from the harm caused by paramilitarism.
12. PSNI – Community Safety and Engagement
Allocated Funding: £145,000
This initiative supports local interventions that enhance problem-solving around issues impacting on the community, and that promote engagement with, and visibility of, policing. This phase will aim to further develop strong relationships and collaboration with PCSPs, community-based organisations and statutory partners.
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.
13. Holistic Support for Victims of Paramilitary Crime
Allocated funding: £100,000
This project will support victims of paramilitary activity and harm. This will involve identification and outreach to victims, including gaining commitment to participate. The bulk of the project will involve providing support to individuals on a range of issues, most pressingly trauma or counselling support, but also with issues such as drug misuse, debt, self-esteem, training and employment, access to benefits, housing, and family relations. This may require mentoring and/or signposting to other services.
The project also aims to build capacity among service providers to work with victims.
14. Communities in Transition Project
Longer term ring-fenced funding, £10 million for the financial period April 2021 – March 2024, will be provided to community-based activity supported by the Communities in Transition project.
This project sustains the efforts to build capacity and support in communities which are most impacted by paramilitary activity and coercive control.
It is led by The Executive Office and is currently delivered in eight 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 and Policing; Addressing the needs of young people; Health and Wellbeing; Environment and Culture; Community Development Issues; Restorative Justice and 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 campaigns
Ending the Harm is a series of hard-hitting public awareness campaigns that highlight organised crime and paramilitary activity and how this can have a devastating impact on victims, their families, local communities and wider society. The current campaign highlights how paramilitary gangs use illegal money lending to control and coerce vulnerable people.
Research and Evaluations
If you would like to find out more, there is a wide range of research reports and website links available below.
Please note, some of these do not have a direct link to the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme but may be of interest, as they are both insightful and have helped to shape our overall thoughts and approaches.
Funded by the Programme
- Beyond the Spark Young People’s perspectives on the 2021 Northern Ireland Riots - Dr Colm Walsh
- Review of CCEA material
- Aspire Project – ‘Changing Lives to Make Communities Safer’ - Joan Ritchie and Gail McGreevy
- Aspire Project Information
- From Scoping to Supporting: A meta evaluation of targeted youth interventions within phase I of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme - Dr Colm Walsh
- Report on Education and Training Opportunities for Prisoners in the Separated Regime in Northern Ireland - The B9 Review Team
ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and Social Work: Relationship-based Practice Responses - John Frederick, Trevor Spratt and John Devaney
- Adverse Childhood Experiences: Beyond Signs of Safety; Reimagining the Organisation and Practice of Social Work with Children and Families - Trevor Spratt, John Devaney and John Frederick
- Adverse childhood experiences: What we know, what we don’t know, and what should happen next - Dr Kirsten Asmussen, Dr Freyja Fischer, Elaine Drayton and Tom McBride
- Evolving a More Nurturing Society to Prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences - Anthony Biglan, PhD; Mark J. Van Ryzin, PhD; J. David Hawkins, PhD
- The effect of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: a systematic review and meta-analysis - Lancet Public Health
- A pilot study of the benevolent childhood experiences (BCEs) scale - Narayan et al.
- The Safer Borrowing Project: An Evaluation of the Impact of Financial Literacy in NI Schools - Celia O’Hagan
- Moving from Violence to Peace - An International Working Group on Individuals and Communities in Transition
- Building trauma informed systems and policy issues - child welfare information gateway
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach
- Looking again at troubled families: parents’ perspectives on multiple adversities - Lisa Bunting, Mary Anne Webb and Rachel Shannon
- Trauma-related training for clinicians to increase detection of trauma history – Coyle et al.
- Complex PTSD, interpersonal trauma and relational consequences: North and West Belfast trauma centre study paper
- Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma - Colm Walsh
- ARK Policy Brief: The Trauma of Violence and its Impact on Young People in Northern Ireland: The State of Evidence - Dr Colm Walsh and Prof Ann-Marie Gray
- Research Informed Youth Work Practice in Northern Ireland: Recommendations for Engaging Adolescent Boys and Young Men - Colm Walsh and Ken Harland
- Young men’s experiences of violence and crime in a society emerging from conflict - Colm Walsh and Dirk Schubotz
- Countering Paramilitary & Organised Criminal Influence on Youth - A Review - Duncan Morrow and Jonny Byrne
- Barriers to participation and progression in education - A review of the evidence - Mervyn Wilson, Stephen Donnelly and Jamie Stainer
- Barriers to Participation and Progression in Education and Employment for those at risk of becoming involved with Paramilitary Organisations in Northern Ireland - Olivia Lucas, Brendan Sturgeon and Neil Jarman