Executive programme for tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime

The Fresh Start agreement of November 2015 sets out the Executive’s commitment to tackling paramilitary activity and associated criminality. It set up an independent three-person panel – the Fresh Start Panel – to make recommendations on the disbandment of paramilitary groups. Its report was published in June 2016.

The Executive responded to the Panel’s report with the Executive Action Plan for Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime which was published on 19 July 2016. It contains 43 commitments in response to the Panel’s recommendations, 38 of which are being delivered by Executive departments.

The purpose of the programme is to co-ordinate the delivery of these commitments.


A Programme Board has been set up to set the strategic direction, make decisions on implementation, delivery and funding, and to monitor and report on progress.

The Board is chaired by the Head of Civil Service David Sterling 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 Northern Ireland Office.  PSNI attends in an advisory capacity.

The Executive and Westminster Governments have each committed £25 million over five years, a total of £50 million.  This funding is being allocated by the Programme Board to support delivery of commitments made in the action plan. 

A Communities, Transition and Learning delivery group was set up to advise on delivery and brings together Departments, statutory bodies, the voluntary and community sector representatives, and academic experts. 

A sub-group on Promoting Lawfulness and Tackling Criminal Activity has also been set up, which considers both the important law enforcement aspect of this work, and the need to promote a lawful society where people respect the law and each other.

The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) has been established by the UK and Irish Governments to monitor progress on ending continued paramilitary activity. It is an independent body comprising Mitchell B Reiss, Tim O’Connor, Monica McWilliams and John McBurney. It will consult with a range of statutory bodies, communities and civic society organisations and report annually on progress on the implementation of measures to tackle paramilitarism. 

Approach to Delivery

We are working to achieve four long term outcomes. Each relates to the other. They are to ensure

  • the public support and have increasing confidence in the justice system
  • we all live in safer and more confident communities
  • support is available for those who want to move away from paramilitary activity and structures
  • paramilitarism has no place

For each outcome, there is a delivery approach, to which the individual actions are aligned. The outcomes and delivery approaches are set out in the following diagram and summarised below

Long term prevention 

Long term prevention is about promoting lawfulness and preventative measures to support those on the margins of the justice system, including our most vulnerable young people.

  • All communities need to trust in and support the rule of law.
  • Those that are vulnerable to control by paramilitaries will be helped to overcome and ultimately move away from that influence.
  • Public awareness campaigns – I Am Your Money (2016) and Ending The Harm (2018) were launched to raise awareness about the harm caused by criminality linked to paramilitaries.
  • The Probation Service has set up new programmes to help at risk young men from becoming involved or further involved in paramilitary activity. To date over 400 young people have benefited from the programme.
  • For politicians, the pledge of office that all must sign before taking up their duties has been amended to include a pledge to challenge paramilitarism and associated criminality.
  • The Education Authority delivers a Capacity Building Programme (for Teachers and Youth Workers) and a Youth Outreach Programme. The focus of these programmes are on engaging with young people involved in risk taking activities and building relationships with young people who do not currently engage with youth services and who could be considered as being at higher risk of involvement in paramilitary activity

Building confidence in the justice system 

Building confidence in the justice system which has a focus on the relationship between policing and communities and speeding up the justice system.

  • It is important that all citizens feel confident in engaging with the justice system.  Building an increased understanding of the way the justice system works, and ensuring that it operates at an appropriate pace is key to this.
  • The Department of Justice is rolling out measures to speed up the justice system for cases involving drugs, murder, manslaughter and other serious crimes through the implementation of legislative and procedural reform.
  • Issues around sentencing and bail decisions are also under review.  
  • A series of measures are being rolled out designed to improve the confidence between communities and the police. The PSNI is continuing delivery of a Policing with the Community Project (PWC) with the overall aim of addressing issues of visibility, engagement and problem-solving in those communities still susceptible to Paramilitarism. The project is focused on training; research into community issues; and local interventions to address the issues raised.

Strategies and Powers to Tackle Criminal Activity

The Paramilitary Crime Taskforce (PCTF), consisting of the PSNI, NCA and HMRC, was set up to provide a dedicated, co-located law enforcement response to tackle the particular issue of criminality related to paramilitary groups. Creating this dedicated investigative resource means that a long term consistent focus can be applied to the investigation of paramilitary groups.

The combined investigative resource of all three agencies has been focusing its efforts on

  • increasing understanding of the activity of paramilitary linked Organised Crime Gangs (OCGs), and their criminal enterprises and networks
  • increasing the number of paramilitary linked OCGs frustrated, disrupted and dismantled
  • increasing the number and quantity of cash seizures / confiscations from paramilitary linked OCGs
  • increasing the number of paramilitary linked offenders subject to Serious & Organised Crime Prevention Orders.

Building Capacity to Support Transition

  • Moving away from paramilitary activity can be very difficult for those who have been drawn into it. Communities can also struggle to escape the grip of coercive control that paramilitary organisations can exercise over them.  Support is being provided to help individuals and communities transition away from paramilitary influence.
  • Plans have been developed to help this process in areas currently most vulnerable to paramilitary activity and control.
  • We also recognise the vital role of women in helping to move communities away from paramilitarism. DfC’s Women’s Early Intervention Programme (WEIP) was developed and delivered in February and March 2017 to identify groups of disengaged women and prepare them to join in DfC’s larger Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT) Programme.   Training pathways covered include: Social Innovation: Community Leadership: Women in Civil Society and Communication & Engagement.The Attorney General has rolled out the “It's your Law” programme to help young people better understand how the law works. It is aimed at disengaged young people, who are not reaching their potential and young people in school who are at risk of exclusion and are educationally underachieving, with a particular focus on those schools/young people who are at risk of influence from paramilitary/ organised crime. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has adopted guidelines on employing people with conflict-related convictions, helping them to build a new life away from paramilitary influence.

Culture of lawfulness

The independent Panel set up to make recommendations towards the disbandment of paramilitary groups noted that ‘lack of confidence in the rule of law’ was identified during consultations as a key barrier towards progressing the disbandment of these groups, and that cultural issues towards reporting to the police make delivery of successful criminal justice outcomes more difficult. They note that respect for the rule of law implies an individual responsibility to report criminality and to support the justice system to tackle it – and that it will take time to change a prevailing culture, but that strong political and community leadership will be needed to promote a “culture of lawfulness”.

The panel also noted that promoting lawfulness has the most chance of success when it is something that takes place across all sectors of society, and is led by figures across all sectors. A commitment by the Executive to promote lawfulness sits at the heart of the Executive action plan for Tackling Paramilitary Activity: “The Executive should make promoting lawfulness a key priority in the current mandate” (action A1).  This is followed by a number of subsequent commitments to promote lawfulness, and build confidence in the rule of law.

If we are to be successful in promoting a culture of lawfulness we need to empower communities with the capacity, skills and autonomy to address local concerns and harm proactively, supported by the statutory agencies. All of this should work towards embedding a culture where there is a permeating respect for the rule of law, but recognise that more importantly; there are acceptable standards of behaviours and positive role models, which are accepted by all, allowing people to live in safety and stability. The Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Team tested some of these ideas through its lawfulness sub-group to develop a framework which provides a basis for ongoing discussions and helps to inform the approach to promoting lawfulness through the Executive action plan.

It should be noted that the framework is not intended to be a definitive definition, but rather a ‘living’ document that helps to frame the debate about what we mean by a culture of lawfulness, and how this can be meaningfully embedded in a way that supports communities and builds capacity.  We welcome views on the framework, which we continue to test and develop with stakeholders and communities.

Progress to date

Programme updates on the Executive's programme to tackle paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime:

Ending the Harm public awareness campaign

The Ending the Harm public awareness campaign is a hard-hitting campaign about the brutal reality of so-called paramilitary style attacks.

The campaign, which is part of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme, is aimed at highlighting the devastating impact of paramilitary style attacks on victims, their families, local communities and wider society. It tells the story of a paramilitary style 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 Endingtheharm website



Phone: 028 9037 8674 or 028 9052 0069

Email: tppt@justice-ni.x.gsi.gov.uk


or follow us on Twitter @endingtheharm 





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