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Security Threat

Volume 528: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2011

2. What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the level of security threat from dissidents. (55380)

Close co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive plays a major part in our efforts to counter the threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland. This involves regular discussions with the Executive’s Justice Minister. I look forward to continuing work with the new Executive in the coming weeks and months on the security, economic and community aspects of this problem.

First, may I thank the Secretary of State for his tribute to David Cairns, whom I served with as a Northern Ireland Minister some years ago?

The Secretary of State will know that the PSNI is making good progress in capturing weapons and Semtex, but, with more than 100 bombings in the last year alone, I believe it is clear that supply is coming from outside Northern Ireland. Will he work with the Executive, the Home Office, the Irish authorities and, indeed, international authorities to ensure that he does everything possible to stem the supply of such material from outside Northern Ireland?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and pay tribute to his work on Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right that we must make sure that at every level of government we work to stem the flow of fresh arms into Northern Ireland. We now have unprecedented co-operation. That is the case not only between the Westminster Government and the Northern Ireland Executive—I pay tribute to all those who have recently been elected to the Executive, and I am delighted that David Ford, whom I spoke to this morning, has been re-elected—but there is also exceptional co-operation with the Garda. I discussed this matter with the Home Secretary yesterday as well, so we are clearly working at all levels.

May I also pay tribute to David Cairns on behalf of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs? I had the honour of working with him on a number of Committees and always found him to be extremely efficient and courteous.

All Members will recall the show of paramilitary strength by men in balaclavas over the Easter period, which brings shame to Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State give an update on what is being done to pursue those who obviously have common cause with those who were threatening violence?

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his remarks. As he will have seen over the weekend, the police investigation into those shocking scenes at Easter took its course, and in one case charges were laid against Marian McGlinchey. I took the decision to revoke her licence as she was charged under the Terrorism Act 2000. I spoke to the chief constable this morning. The police investigations continue, and I am confident that the PSNI will bring further charges when there is sufficient evidence.

Will the Secretary of State accept—I am sure he will—that the outcome of the recent Assembly and council elections in Northern Ireland showed a clear endorsement of moving Northern Ireland forward and a clear rejection of those who would use violence, whose philosophy is to wreck Stormont and drag us backwards? Will he give a clear commitment to work closely with the security forces, the police and the new Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to protect society and do whatever is necessary to protect all of us from dissident terrorist threats?

I wholeheartedly endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s comments; there is absolutely no place for the pursuit of any political aim by physical violence in Northern Ireland. I congratulate all those who were elected to the Assembly and to the Executive. Obviously, on this particular issue, I congratulate David Ford, to whom I spoke this morning. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will keep up the very closest co-operation with the Stormont Executive on this issue.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s action on the revocation of the licence of Marian McGlinchey—or Marian Price, as she was known—as it sends out a clear signal to those who would threaten violence. Will the Secretary of State give us his assessment of the number of people he believes are involved in dissident terrorism? What is his assessment of the current level of police and other resources deployed to combat that threat?

I am not sure that the number of those involved is as important as their capability. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that these people are continuous in their efforts to attack not just the police, but completely innocent members of the general public who are going about their day-to-day business. Although these people are small in number, as we saw in the recent elections, they do have capability and we do not underestimate the threat. That is why we endorsed £50 million of spending last year, and we managed to negotiate an extraordinary settlement of a further £200 million over the next four years. We are absolutely determined to stand by Northern Ireland and do the right thing.

I join the Secretary of State and hon. Members in their tribute to David Cairns. He was a much respected Minister when Labour were in government and a much loved colleague and friend. Our deepest sympathy goes to his family and his partner, Dermot.

It would be remiss not also to take this opportunity to put on the record the fact that the Queen’s extraordinary visit to Ireland at the moment is an enormous success. It is as healing as it is inspiring. The visit both symbolises the peace process and represents the next step in that process. The process is still necessary, as dissident republican groups pose new threats to the police and the public; just this Monday, a coded bomb warning brought huge disruption to central London. What is the Secretary of State’s evaluation of the capability of this growing number of dissident terrorists, not only in Northern Ireland but here in Britain?

I entirely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the significance of Her Majesty the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland. It is a wonderful way to end the current President of Ireland’s two terms and it is a wonderful, ringing endorsement of the normality between our two nations. Significantly, the right hon. Gentleman and I are not in Ireland this morning; we are here answering questions in Parliament. This is an endorsement of the tremendous progress that has been made and a sign of how we will move further forward. On the question of capability here, we do not like to get into operational matters but, as he knows, we do not underestimate the threat of these groups and we have done a significant amount in the past year to bear down on them.

The threat, none the less, has clearly heightened, not only in Northern Ireland, but here in Britain. We must all ensure that in Northern Ireland, as well as here in Britain, no part of government resides in just hoping for the best; realism is as vital a tool in containment as is prevention. As part of that realism, the British Government must continue to recognise their responsibility in addressing the sectarian legacy of the troubles. What is the Secretary of State’s response to Co-operation Ireland’s bid for £20 million from the British Government—not from the Assembly—to ensure that in Northern Ireland the big society is more than just aspiration?

Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We increased the threat level from moderate to substantial in Great Britain last year and we are doing what we think is necessary to work closely with the authorities not just in Northern Ireland but in the Republic and to bear down on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this is a policy of containment long term and we need to break the cycle. We are extremely interested in the projects run by Co-operation Ireland, such as that in Kilwilkie, but many of these projects are also run by the devolved Administration. As I mentioned in my reply to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), we will discuss this work with the new devolved Ministers. I had a meeting with the chairman of Co-operation Ireland this week and I shall see him in Dublin later in the week.