IRC Sixth Report


The IRC has published its Sixth Report on Tuesday 5 December 2023:


The Independent Reporting Commission (the IRC) has published its Sixth Report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity on Tuesday 5 December 2023.

The Commission was established in 2017 to report annually on progress towards ending paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland. The Commission is governed by an international treaty between the UK and Irish Governments which reflected the terms of the Fresh Start Agreement concluded by the two Governments and the Northern Ireland parties in 2015.

Commenting on the findings and recommendations in the Sixth Report, the Commissioners said:

“Paramilitarism represents a continuing threat to individuals and society and must continue to be given sufficient attention and focus to ensure that it becomes a thing entirely of the past. 

“We characterise 2023 as “mixed” in terms of paramilitarism.  The security situation data showed levels broadly in line with the last few years, although the recent increase in shootings is a concern. 

“There were some shocking incidents during the year involving both Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries.  These included the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell (which was instrumental in the raising of the Threat Level in Northern Ireland-related Terrorism from “substantial” to “severe”) and a number of incidents occurring under the banner of Loyalist paramilitarism, including a high-profile drug gang feud, which served to underline how quickly situations can escalate. Coercive control continues to be an unacceptable feature of life in many communities where the paramilitaries operate.

Commenting on evidence of progress being made, the Commissioners added:

“There is increasing evidence that the work undertaken by the Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme (“the Programme”) is bearing real fruit.

“We welcome an increasing focus on collaborative working by all of the entities involved, with a relatively new structure at the top chaired by the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, ensuring strategic leadership on a joined-up basis at a senior level, and there are strong examples of inter-agency collaboration at working level. Evaluation and data are showing that various projects are making a tangible difference in individual lives, communities, and services provided, and we see good evidence of joined-up and collaborative partnerships.

“We believe that there are growing indications that the cumulative impact of collective law enforcement efforts, including on the part of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, is having an impact on the groups and their leaderships. Prevention, collaboration and partnership work, including neighbourhood policing, must continue to be adequately resourced and funded.  We acknowledge and welcome the commitment of the senior leadership team at the PSNI to this approach.

The Commissioners highlighted the political and economic challenges impacting on progress, and the continuing need for commitment to this work:

“A lot of good work has been delivered and there is much more to be done.  We encourage a wide conversation about how we can strengthen and deepen efforts to tackle paramilitarism. 

“Instability at political level has not helped.  There are no grounds for complacency.  Rather, the need for a sustained focus on tackling and ending paramilitarism remains essential.

“Policing and criminal justice measures are essential in bringing paramilitarism to an end, but they are not enough in themselves and need to be situated within a wider, more holistic approach that includes tackling the deep and systemic socio-economic conditions which are linked to the continuing existence of paramilitarism and which particularly affect certain communities.  We welcome the fact that that is the direction of travel of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme and encourage the continuation of that approach.

“It is vital that appropriate funding is provided not only for dedicated work to tackle paramilitarism, but also for transformational work to address the socio-economic context and for related core service delivery.

“We recommend an ambitious new Programme for Government, which both restates a collective commitment to tackling paramilitarism, and sets ambitious economic and social policy goals, including for education and poverty, which will help address the socio-economic conditions which are linked to the continuing existence of paramilitarism.

“The effect of the cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately felt in those communities already struggling in socio-economic terms, which are often communities where paramilitary influence tends to be at its strongest.  We call on the Government to give continued special consideration to the needs of communities where paramilitaries mainly operate in measures addressing the cost-of-living crisis in Northern Ireland.

The Commissioners repeated their recommendation for an agreed formal process of Group Transition, involving direct engagement with the paramilitary groups themselves, to bring about disbandment.

“In our Fifth Report we proposed an intermediate step in the form of the appointment by the two Governments of an Independent Person, who would scope and prepare the ground for a possible process of engagement, with a view to bringing about Group Transition to disbandment.  We appreciate the engagement to date with the two governments on our Recommendation, and the fact that they are giving it positive consideration;  we urge them to progress the implementation of this Recommendation as soon as possible.

In conclusion, the Commissioners said:

“A core goal of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was ensuring that the future was based on exclusively peaceful, democratic politics and that paramilitarism would become a thing entirely of the past.  We believe that just as risks had to be taken to achieve peace in the 1990s, and dialogue underpinned those endeavours, so today it is worth taking further risks in order to achieve the goal of ending paramilitarism once and for all.

“As 2023 draws to a close, and while nothing is guaranteed, we believe that the opportunity to deliver the promise of a definitive end to paramilitarism exists in a very real way.  Achieving the goal of tackling paramilitarism will require political leadership from every quarter.  The task now is to ensure that every opportunity to meaningfully tackle paramilitarism is taken to the full.”