Monica McWilliams: No place for paramilitary gangsters

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A Northern Ireland paramilitary monitor has said coercive behaviour by gangsters should stop.

Monica McWilliams said crime gang members were using their affiliations to dissident republicans or loyalists to threaten people.

The former Women’s Coalition leader sits on the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC), which is a key element of a strategy in the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement at Stormont to end the criminal activity.

It will report annually to the UK and Irish governments on progress in tackling organised criminality, which remains more than 20 years after the Troubles.

Ms McWilliams said: “We still have these sort of gangsters running around.”

She said their coercive behaviour had to stop.

“There is no time in Northern Ireland anymore for armed groups using their affiliation to threaten the rest of us.”

She said the peace walls dividing communities primarily in Belfast and elsewhere had to come down and shared housing needed to work.

She expressed fury that people were put out of their homes on the Ravenhill road recently and that police “served the eviction notices”.

She added: “Civil society should have stood up.”

Ms McWilliams addressed an event discussing the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The four IRC members are former US special envoy to Northern Ireland Mitchell Reiss, ex-human rights commissioner Ms McWilliams, solicitor John McBurney and Irish former diplomat Tim O’Connor.

Fr Gary Donegan is a Catholic priest who has spent years working with communities at flashpoints in North Belfast.

He said 2,400 people were alive today due to the effect of the Good Friday Agreement, but expressed concern about the impact of Brexit on the border and the impasse at Stormont giving dissidents the “oxygen” and opportunity they needed.

He worried shots would be fired on a hard border then troops could be back on patrol.

“This place is falling over with leaders, the problem is it is missing statesmanship and that is the difference.”

Methodist minister Harold Good, who helped witness the decommissioning of paramilitary arms, concurred complacency and indifference to the lack of devolved government could be dangerous.

“There is always a danger, and it is a very real danger, that there are those who are all too anxious to fill that vacuum.”

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