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Dissident Republican Groups

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the threat posed by dissident republican groups; and if he will make a statement. (306254)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the security threat in Northern Ireland from dissident republicans. (306257)

9. What steps are being taken to reduce the level of activity of dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. (306258)

10. What his most recent assessment is of the level of activity of dissident republicans; and if he will make a statement. (306259)

While the self-styled criminals remain a serious threat, their cowardly actions have been rejected by the majority of people in Northern Ireland. None the less, the Government are not complacent about the threat that those people continue to pose.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland, particularly with reference to a minority dissident republican group that appears to be causing trouble to try to put a stop to the peace process. Will he assure me that that will not happen, that he is working with everybody in Northern Ireland to ensure that it will not, and that that group will be named and dealt with in the appropriate manner?

I am pleased to report that that group is, indeed, being dealt with in the appropriate manner. That follows in part as a result of the extensive co-operation of the community, whose members do not wish to see Northern Ireland plunged into anything like the chaos they saw in the past. I will also say this to my hon. Friend: the dissident groups may wish to undermine the peace process, but they will do so only if they undermine confidence in the political process. If we succeed with the politics, we will preserve the peace.

Given the recent resignation of the prison governor and the sale of a judge’s home owing to dissident threats, what can the Secretary of State tell us about the action that the Government are taking to ensure the protection of prominent public figures?

The prison governor made it clear that his reasons for resignation, which we regret, were a matter of personal circumstances. My hon. Friend the Minister is making the appropriate arrangements in relation to that. As regards threats to individuals posed by the self-styled dissident groups, we will do everything we can to protect people in Northern Ireland. It is clear that this small minority of people, who have no support in the community, would like to undermine public confidence. We will ensure that those who promote peace and the politics and the institutions of Northern Ireland have the appropriate protection that they deserve.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the media have been endeavouring to connect the devolution of policing and justice with dissident republican activity. What steps are the Government taking to defeat dissident republicans? Does the Secretary of State understand that no political stunts or intimidation of Unionists will weaken our resolve in ensuring that policing and justice are devolved when there is community confidence, which means dealing with and resolving the issues, including the parades issue?

The hon. Gentleman will know that following the attacks at Massereene in his constituency in March, measures of public confidence were extremely high, not least because the public in Northern Ireland saw politicians across the divide come together with a unity of purpose. I believe, as the Independent Monitoring Commission report recently observed, that early completion of the devolution of policing and justice from Westminster to Stormont would be a potent intervention against these people. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about community confidence, but there could be no greater sign of confidence than the completion of the devolution of policing and justice.

The Secretary of State will know that some in the security services believe that there is an intelligence deficit with regard to dissident republican groups. Does he share that concern, and what steps is he taking to overcome that problem?

First, many of these matters relate to the operational independence of the Chief Constable, which I am sure that all hon. Members would respect. We are ensuring that the resources are there for the security services in Northern Ireland and the PSNI. The hon. Lady will know that in order to meet this challenge, the Prime Minister has made additional reserves available to the PSNI this year and guaranteed it additional money next year. As for intelligence about these dissident groups, I congratulate the PSNI and the security services, who have consistently managed to thwart these people, whose objective is to undermine confidence and damage the peace process itself.

Does the Secretary of State agree that any threat to the stability of our political institutions feeds into the warped thinking of the so-called dissident so-called republican groups? Does he further agree that the sooner we can agree on the devolution of justice and policing, avoid any threat of the collapse of our institutions, and reject any speculation that Sinn Fein may be planning to withdraw from policing arrangements such as district policing partnerships, the sooner we will defy the agenda of the dissident groups?

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. I wish to note, and the House will wish to record, that only in the past few weeks those at Stormont have completed the passage of the Department of Justice Bill, which would enable a Justice Department to be created, and invite the identification of a Justice Minister. Progress is being made. Let us not allow the dissidents any voice at all; let us have a show of confidence and complete the devolution of policing and justice. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. The House must come to order. I know that hon. and right hon. Members will want to listen intently to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—I call Sir Patrick Cormack.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and a very merry Christmas.

Does the Secretary of State agree that 2009 would have been a very much blacker year had it not been for the achievements of the PSNI in defusing some terrible bombs that could have caused enormous harm? Will he give the House the categorical assurance that the PSNI will be kept up to strength and increased in strength to combat that terrible threat?

May I first take this opportunity on behalf of the House to record our thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his tireless work in Northern Ireland and with the Select Committee? I say that conscious of the decision that he has announced in relation to next year. We thank him for what he has done, and the people of Northern Ireland are extremely grateful for his work and that of his Committee.

The work of the PSNI in 2009 has been tireless and successful, despite enormous provocation. The House will wish to know that had the bomb intended for the Policing Board headquarters gone off, it would have caused certainly severe damage to the building and probably severe loss of life. Brilliant work by the PSNI and the services across the board continues to ensure that these criminals who call themselves dissidents do not succeed. I only hope that next year will be an even better year for the PSNI.

May I strongly endorse the comments of the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the performance of the PSNI this year?

We do not underestimate the threat posed by dissidents, but we firmly believe that the response must be proportionate. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that every part of Northern Ireland is policed on a regular basis to ensure the confidence of all parts of the community in the effectiveness of the PSNI?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and join in his observations. The objective of these criminals is not damage to a building or even the loss of life but to undermine confidence in the politics and damage the peace process. We must all bear in mind that they seek to wreck the political process and in turn the peace process, and I can confidently say that this House will not allow them to succeed in that.

A few weeks ago, the Conservatives agreed to endorse the substantial financial package that would follow the devolution of policing and justice. Given the current threat, has the Secretary of State considered drawing on parts of that package in advance to enable the Chief Constable to deliver more effective policing?

My hon. Friend the Security Minister and I are in regular discussions with the Chief Constable, who of course has operational independence on these matters. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made available nearly £30 million of extra money this year for the PSNI and has offered more than that for next year. That money has not been exhausted, but my right hon. Friend has made it very clear to the Chief Constable that he is always open to representations from him because regardless of circumstances, this Government stand with the people of Northern Ireland.