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Security Situation

Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 10 November 2010

5. What his most recent assessment is of the level of threat posed by terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. (22151)

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe. We are not complacent, but I am pleased to tell the House that this year, following eight further arrests this morning, there have been 195 arrests and 71 persons have been charged with terrorist offences. That compares with 106 arrests and 17 charges in the whole of 2009. I commend the security forces for their continued successes in frustrating the efforts of residual terrorist groups. The coalition Government are committed to continuing to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland, and standing firmly behind the agreements negotiated and the institutions that they established.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The national security strategy has highlighted the fact that there have been 37 separate attacks this year, so the threat from residual terrorist groups remains high. What steps is he taking to combat that threat?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. We have taken this to the highest level of Government. We presented a paper to the National Security Council, and as a result of that, the threat from Northern Ireland has been put in tier 1 in the national security strategy.

The latest Independent Monitoring Commission report highlights the continuing involvement of dissident republicans in very serious levels of criminal activity. Will the Minister assure the House that all resources will be made available to ensure that that threat does not continue?

I repeat that we are working extremely closely with the devolved Administration and the Dublin Government on bearing down on this threat, and we will do what is necessary.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge the deep anger among all sections of the community in Northern Ireland at the growing level of attacks by paramilitaries—with, indeed, activity on both sides, but particularly among dissident republicans? People are looking for action to be taken, and for co-operation between the agencies for which he is responsible and the Northern Ireland Executive to deal with this problem urgently.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to make that comment. That is why we produced a substantial paper for the National Security Council, which was discussed at the highest level; and that is why we are working so closely with the devolved Administration and the Justice Minister, to whom I spoke this morning, and the Government in Dublin. We are determined to work at all levels to end this security problem.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, and acknowledge the work that he is doing in terms of the tier 1 level of threat assessment in Northern Ireland. However, the fact that the recent bomb find at East Midlands airport happened on the same day as a bomb find at Belfast City airport shows the level of threat against citizens right across the United Kingdom. Can we be assured that while the threat of al-Qaeda is a priority, the threat in Northern Ireland is also treated as a top priority?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that these threats affect us all in the United Kingdom. That is why the threat from Northern Ireland has been placed in the No. 1 category—in tier 1.

The Secretary of State and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave an unambiguous undertaking before the Hillsborough Castle agreement that the previous Government’s financial arrangements for the devolution of policing and justice would be upheld. In relation to the security situation, this unequivocally included a commitment that the Northern Ireland Executive would have access to the reserve. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he continues to stand by that commitment, without any new conditions being imposed by the Treasury?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I have said this already, but I am happy to look him in the eye and repeat it. Should the security situation deteriorate, then—according to the agreement that the previous Government, in which he was Secretary of State, made with the then Executive—the Justice Minister and the Chief Constable have the right to approach the Government with a clear strategy on security grounds in order to call on the national reserve.

I am grateful for that reply. We all note the decision to raise the threat level here in Great Britain, and the Secretary of State can be assured that the Opposition fully support the decision to address the problems created by that threat. Given the level of recent attacks in Northern Ireland, including the recent use of a hand grenade, and given the need for the response to be measured, proportionate and joined up, would a request by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to meet the Prime Minister as soon as possible be fully supported by the Secretary of State?

The Prime Minister made regular visits to Northern Ireland when he was Leader of the Opposition. He met the First Minister and Deputy First Minister then, to discuss a broad range of issues. He intends to go back to Northern Ireland, and at that time he will have the opportunity to discuss matters with them. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring specifically to the budget settlement, it is appropriate that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister first discuss that with me, having done their utmost to come to an agreement and consensus in the Executive on a budget for the substantial funds that have been allocated to them in this spending round.