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Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2011

4. What recent assessment he has made of the level of threat to security in Northern Ireland posed by residual terrorist groups; and if he will make a statement. (38256)

9. What recent assessment he has made of the level of threat to security in Northern Ireland posed by residual terrorist groups; and if he will make a statement. (38262)

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe. So far this year there have been 15 arrests and three persons charged with terrorist-related offences. This follows 210 arrests and 80 persons charged in 2010. The severity of the threat was highlighted by the recent Antrim road incident, for which there have been three arrests in the past 48 hours. This attack not only endangered lives but also caused major disruption to local communities and businesses.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that cross-border co-operation between the north and the south is essential to address the level of threat posed by terrorist groups?

In a word, yes. My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that he has now met the new chief of the Garda Siochana, Martin Callinan. We continue to work very closely with the Garda, which has had some very lucky finds and some finds as a result of its hard work and co-operation with the PSNI. We applaud the work—

The Minister has made it clear that he is in negotiation with the Treasury over the extra funds needed to tackle dissident groups. Can he say at this stage whether he agrees with the assessment of the Chief Constable that this money is required?

Clearly we do, because we have endorsed it. These things do not come out of the blue. We are working very closely with the PSNI. We continue to work with the Department of Justice and David Ford, and we continue to work with the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman needs to think about the sums of money that are involved in all these things. He would surely agree that it is only fit, right and proper that the Treasury looks at all applications for funding very closely so that we do not find ourselves in the same hole that we were in when we came into power in May last year.

The recent third annual report of the independent reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 states:

“So far as terrorism is concerned, the activities of the residual terrorist groups have been dangerous and disruptive.”

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to help Northern Ireland to combat this threat?

The threat in Northern Ireland is extremely serious. The majority of people in Northern Ireland are against the residual terrorist groups, which have no support in the community and are disrupting businesses. In the case of the Antrim road incident, they put about 100 people out of their houses on one of the coldest nights of the year. We continue to work extremely closely with the PSNI. The PSNI works with the Garda in the Republic of Ireland to bear down on these terrorists. We are certain that we can do that and drive them out. They have no place in modern Northern Ireland—

Intelligence agencies tell us that a republican group in County Tyrone is planning to announce its appearance with a bombing wave in Northern Ireland. One hundred members of the Provisional IRA have seemingly pledged their allegiance to this new group. Can the Minister assure the House that any republican prisoner released under the Belfast agreement who becomes a member of this group will immediately be returned to prison?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State and I keep under constant review the possibility of recalling those who have been released earlier. It is under constant review.

I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for the work they have been doing with the Treasury to address the problems that are faced with dissident terrorist activity. Is the Minister concerned that the current to-ing and fro-ing is giving succour to those dissident terrorists when what the Treasury needs to do is to stand by commitments made?

No, I do not believe that. I do believe, as I said to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David), that the PSNI has made a good case to the Treasury. We have worked on that with the PSNI and the Department of Justice. It is now up to the various bodies involved to negotiate an outcome. I can only repeat what the Chancellor said yesterday in answer to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound):

“I am clear that security comes first.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 148.]

I have no reason to suppose that the Chancellor has changed his mind in the intervening 24 hours.

Will the Minister comment on the assessments that have been made of the intentions of dissident republicans here on the mainland with regard to the preparations for the Olympics? What might that activity mean in terms of future terrorist attacks here?

The right hon. Gentleman asks that question 15 years to the day since the Canary Wharf bombing, which heralded the end of the IRA ceasefire. It is therefore a timely question on a date that we all remember. Of course, there is a threat here from Northern Ireland-related terrorism. That is why, for the first time ever, the Home Secretary raised the threat level. I assure hon. Members that all services are working closely together to ensure that any attempt to disrupt the Olympics or any other occasion of national importance in the coming months or years—