Alliance Councillor Stewart Dickson has welcomed the Government’s acceptance of his party’s proposals to appoint an observer to monitor paramilitary activity, with an announcement on who will hold the position expected from the Secretary of State shortly.
Cllr Dickson said: “This is an important step towards introducing greater integrity back into the peace process, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s acceptance of Alliance’s Hillsborough proposals.
“By shining a spotlight onto paramilitary activity, an independent monitor will ensure that truth is no longer sacrificed for political expediency.”
Cllr Dickson said there had been a series of international appointments made in recent years to assist us with various aspects of the peace process. He said this went back to the appointment, in December 1995, of George Mitchell and his colleagues to advise on the best means to handle decommissioning in relation to political talks.
“The public has been crying out for more honesty from the Government about the levels of paramilitary violence. If the terrorists have no intention of breaking their ceasefire and have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear,” continued Cllr Dickson.
“But at this moment in time, it is obvious every time we switch on the TV or open a newspaper, that they are up to their necks in shootings, drugs and rioting. An international observer would be able to identify what is going on in a measurable way so that we can get to the bottom of who is responsible for what.”
Cllr Dickson added that an observer would not just be someone who would report on high profile issues like Castlereagh and Colombia. “We need the observer to also examine what is happening on the ground in relation to major problems such as street violence and paramilitary attacks,” he continued.
“The appointee should have the ability to focus international attention on those parties and organisations that are failing to live up to their commitments to non-violence and exclusively democratic means.”
“Through making objective, public reports of what is happening, the observer would bring considerable pressure to bear on those involved in illegal, destabilising activities, and provide greater openness to the peace process.”
“The appointment of a monitor, or team of monitors, isn’t linked to a process of exclusion. Rather, it has the best chance of encouraging groups to move away from violence. Independent reports would enable us to move away from the perception that paramilitaries are above criticism.”
Cllr Dickson said the people of Northern Ireland wanted to see a normal society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“When the Agreement was signed, I think most people were prepared to tolerate the notion of an imperfect peace for a short time, provided we quickly began moving towards a normal society. But what the public cannot accept is an imperfect peace that is allowed to get worse and worse – until there is no peace at all.”
“While in some respects the security situation has improved substantially, both Loyalists and Republicans have not only continued but also intensified their involvement in certain activities, like rioting. They have even grown in areas like smuggling, drug dealing, racketeering and counterfeit goods.”
“The massive problem of terrorism has never been properly addressed. Now is the time to act to save the Agreement – and Alliance’s proposal could well be the key to doing this.”