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Police Service of Northern Ireland

Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2011

3. What arrangements he has made to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources to meet threats from dissident activity. (38255)

Funding for the PSNI is primarily a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive. However, this Government are committed to ensuring that the Chief Constable has the necessary resources to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups. The Northern Ireland Justice Minister has made a strong case to the Treasury for access to additional resources, but discussions are continuing at the highest level, and I am confident that we will have a satisfactory outcome soon.

The Chief Constable of the PSNI has requested an extra £200 million to deal with the perceived dissident threat in Northern Ireland. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he was “interrogating the request”. Surely we should have had a proper response by now.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister have made that request, and we are taking it extremely seriously. The bid is, of course, for money over four years, which is probably unprecedented for the reserve, and it is not an easy matter, given the national economic circumstances that we face. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, of the Chancellor’s words yesterday. He said:

“We will treat the request with due diligence, but I am clear that security comes first. That will be my priority.” —[Official Report, 8 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 148.]

The Secretary of State will no doubt be as delighted as I am by the proposed visit of the Queen down to Dublin, but he will have seen the news on republican websites that there is likely to be dissident activity. What assistance will be given to the PSNI during that difficult period?

My hon. Friend will know that no visit has formally been confirmed, although everyone in the House would welcome one. I should like to confirm that we have the closest possible collaboration with the Garda Siochana out in Dublin. A couple of weeks ago I met the new commissioner, Martin Callinan, and I am delighted to say that he is absolutely as robust and as determined to face down those terrorists as his predecessor, Fachtna Murphy.

Given the continuing perceived threat from dissident activity, the disruption to normal human and economic activity two weeks ago in Belfast, and the calculating callousness of leaving a booby-trap device on a child’s bicycle, will the Secretary of State now take action to ensure that intelligence is transferred from MI5 to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has all the accountability mechanisms in place?

I agree with the hon. Lady about the disgusting nature of those terrorists: booby-trapping a child’s bicycle is absolutely revolting. I know that her strong belief is that the regime should be changed, but at this moment it would be crazy to move the furniture around. Let me make it very clear that Lord Carlile, who conducted an independent review of the matter, said that MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are working very closely together, and that we could not do more work, or do it more energetically, to deal with what is a very difficult threat. I am afraid that we just have to disagree on this matter, but I do agree that we have to do everything that we can to bear down—

Although PSNI funding is rightly the responsibility of the devolved Administration, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that, in the event that dissident activity becomes much stronger, resources may be made available from the UK Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We made it clear that a bid has been made by the Justice Minister, whom I met on Monday and talked to this morning on the phone. We are raising this at the highest level of government and we are determined to stand by Northern Ireland and do the right thing.

It would be churlish of me to let this occasion pass without congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of State, on his elevation to the Privy Council, and I do so with pleasure.

It would be negligent of me—

Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that there is real pressure on time, so let us get on with the question.

It would be negligent of me, Mr Speaker, not to remind the Secretary of State that the request for additional funding has been with the Treasury since last year—for months. The signal that we send to dissident terrorists is the most important thing here. Will the Secretary of State fight for Ulster, fight against the dissidents and fight with the Treasury to get this money, which the PSNI needs now?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations to my right hon. Friend. He is not quite right about the request—[Interruption.] No, he is not right to say “months”. The Minister of Justice has negotiated within the Executive and got a significant increase from his fellow Ministers, which we welcome. Having resolved where he stood with the Executive, he then wrote to me with a request calling on the reserve. That letter came to me in January.