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Security Situation

Volume 505: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2010

2. What his latest assessment is of the level of threat in Northern Ireland from dissident republican groups. (314137)

4. What his latest assessment is of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (314140)

The most recent Independent Monitoring Commission report confirmed that the threat from dissident republicans is at its highest for six years. I pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Security Service in combating and disrupting terrorism in all its forms.

The Minister will be aware of the latest attempt by dissidents to carry out an attack on the security forces, which happened last night. Thankfully, it was thwarted through co-operation between the PSNI and the police in the Irish Republic. It is that kind of co-operation that will help to defeat those terrorists.

Is the Minister aware of a realignment that is taking place within those dissident republican groups, as a result of which we have seen an increase in the number of attacks and the risks that they pose to the security forces? Will he reassure us that the Chief Constable will be given the resources he needs to combat that serious threat?

There was an attack last night on the Old Park barracks, which indeed followed an attack a few days ago at Bessbrook police station. Of course, all such incidents are to be condemned. The IMC noted that there was some tactical co-operation between certain groupings, which of course the PSNI and the Security Service are aware of and are dealing with, but the key thing is that the completion of devolution of policing and justice provides a real opportunity to snuff out those who would oppose the political and peace processes and try to bring disruption. We have a real opportunity to move such people right away from the mainstream of society, who support law and order and want visible policing on their streets to deal with everyday kinds of crime, including antisocial behaviour.

Does the Minister share my concern about the sheer brutality and nerve of the recent drive-by shootings? Is he satisfied that the human intelligence-gathering capability of the PSNI is as good as it was in the RUC?

I have absolute confidence in the capacity of the PSNI and the Security Service to deal with the threat that is posed. It is a severe threat, and we recognise that, but the police and the Security Service have the capability to deal with it. I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning the people who carried out those attacks, and those who carried out the despicable attack on Constable Peadar Heffron a short time ago. I am pleased that because of Constable Heffron’s great strength and the support of his family, he has now regained consciousness and is in a stable condition. Their approach to life stands in stark contrast to the despicable behaviour of those who tried to take his life.

I join the Minister in condemning the attack on Constable Heffron and wish him a rapid and full recovery from his very serious injuries. His is one of a series of attacks, as we have heard this morning, mainly—although not exclusively—on police officers. On behalf of the Opposition, I condemn those attacks without reservation and I ask the Minister again whether he can do anything to help the police to protect their officers from these murderous and cowardly attacks.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that all police officers in Northern Ireland have received an appropriate briefing on their own security. This year the Government have made available an extra £28 million to deal with the terrorist threat, and more money will follow next year. It is a great tribute to the PSNI, when one looks back at some of the serious attacks in the past year, that two people have been remanded in custody and charged with murder in relation to the attacks at the Massereene barracks, two have been charged with the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll, and two have been charged with attempted murder in relation to an attack planned recently in Garrison against a young police officer. The police service is absolutely up for this and is determined to deal with the threat.