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Dissident Paramilitary Activity

Volume 512: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2010

2. What recent assessment he has made of the extent of activities of dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. (4205)

3. What his most recent assessment is of the level of security threat from dissident republican organisations in Northern Ireland. (4206)

7. What recent assessment he has made of levels of dissident paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. (4210)

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe, but the security forces continue to bear down on this small number of criminals. So far this year there have been 121 arrests and 30 charges brought, which compares with 106 arrests and 17 charges brought in the whole of 2009.

I thank the Minister for his response. In the light of the Independent Monitoring Commission’s report, the increase in the activity of a small band of dissident republicans and, in particular, the worrying use of car bombs, will he consider continuing the previous Government’s practice of providing additional funds from the reserves to tackle terrorism?

We did, of course, endorse that approach and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we wrote the most open-dated cheque in supporting the previous Government’s moves in that direction before the general election. In my opening remarks, I referred to the level of activity among those who reject the peace process and who have, in effect, turned their backs on it. I do not wish to distinguish them by calling them “dissident republicans” because I believe that that gives them a status that they do not deserve. I believe that the security services, particularly the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice in Belfast, which is headed by David Ford, and crucially, the Garda in the Republic of Ireland, are working extremely carefully and closely together to try to prevent these atrocities from happening on a more regular basis.

The Minister will be aware that in recent days a 300 lb bomb and a 160 lb bomb have been planted in Northern Ireland by these so-called “dissidents”. Further to the previous question, may I ask whether he will give assurances to this House today and to the people who live in the area where these bombs were put that we will get whatever resources are needed, be they financial or manpower?

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency had the pipe bomb in the grounds of the Brownlow PSNI station on 18 June and the tragic and unacceptable murder of Constable Stephen Carroll by the Continuity IRA. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we support any bid by the PSNI for additional resources, and we will make representations to the Treasury as and when necessary, because the security of innocent individuals in Northern Ireland should be paramount in everything we seek to do.

Does the Minister agree that this is not just about the threat of bombs and dissident activity but about the fact that many dissidents in Northern Ireland—as I know from my experience as a Minister there for some time—are involved in criminal activity? Even today, we have seen reports of criminal gangs and prostitution run by dissident paramilitaries. Will he ensure that resources are available not only to tackle the emergency situation but to deal with the long-term security and crime issues that impact on the community across the Province?

Indeed. Things have changed since the right hon. Gentleman was in Northern Ireland and, of course, crime issues that are without any kind of terrorist connotation are a matter for the Department of Justice, David Ford and the PSNI. Of course, we will provide all the resources that are needed. I cannot stress enough the close co-operation we have with the Garda on cross-border issues. I am delighted to make an announcement today on one of the things for which we have been lobbied by the PSNI—an automatic number plate reading device that will cost £12.9 million. The Secretary of State has been lobbying the Treasury since he took office and I am delighted to be able to announce to the House this morning that we have that funding for the PSNI. That will be a useful device in its continuing battle against those who would commit crime.

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State on their appointments and wish them well in Northern Ireland? Further to previous questions, may I ask what discussions have taken place between the Government, the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland on access to the security fund?

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his elevation to the Privy Council. We have regular meetings, both on a statutory basis and on an informal basis, with David Ford, the Chief Constable and others in Northern Ireland. We listen to the requests that they make for access to the funds, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but I think that they will be heartened by the news that when they asked us for something during the first few weeks of our being in power, we delivered.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and congratulate him on his announcement today. Given that he is now off to a good start, I hope that he can continue with that. On the wider issue of resources, will he give us an assurance? Given the amount of powers that are devolved to Northern Ireland, one of his main tasks will be, along with his colleague the Secretary of State, to fight the Treasury for funds for Northern Ireland. He will be judged on that, so will he give a commitment that he is fighting on that front, too?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we do not have to fight with the Treasury, because in the Treasury are our dear and trusted colleagues. Whenever we have asked them for anything, they have delivered— although I would concede that that has happened only once to date. Without being particularly partisan against Labour Members, I refer the right hon. Gentleman back to the outgoing Chief Secretary’s remark that “There is no money.” This is a very tight fiscal round and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State and I will make representations to the Treasury when asked to do so on behalf of the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on their appointments. Does the Minister agree that one way in which paramilitary activity can start to be countered is if there is co-operation between people in all sections of the communities in each of these areas? Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient progress is being made in that respect?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being appointed Chair of the Select Committee. I hope that that is one issue that the newly formed Select Committee will consider. Of course, he is right, particularly in the light of the Saville report on Bloody Sunday when, for many people, we finally got the truth of what happened on that dreadful day. It is incumbent on everyone in Northern Ireland to come forward and tell the truth. It is only through the truth being told that we can get reconciliation and allow Northern Ireland to move on in the way that everybody in this House would wish it to.

I welcome the Minister to his post and wish him genuinely warm good wishes in his responsibilities. I also welcome the very good news that he and the Secretary of State have secured this additional £12 million from the reserve. That is vital funding and I congratulate them on obtaining it. I am sure that he will agree that the Independent Monitoring Commission has played a vital role in the political process and in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Now that devolution is complete, what role does he envisage for the IMC in the future?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and I have heard nothing but good about his time in Northern Ireland as a Minister. He is a hard act to follow. To keep my answer short, in line with what you have just suggested, Mr Speaker, the IMC has, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, performed a sterling service. We and the Irish Government keep the continuing need for it under review.