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Security Situation

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2011

1. What recent assessment he has made of the threat to security in Northern Ireland posed by residual terrorist groups. (63167)

6. What recent assessment he has made of the threat to security in Northern Ireland posed by residual terrorist groups. (63173)

7. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (63174)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the threat to security in Northern Ireland posed by residual terrorist groups. (63175)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I believe that the House will want to pay tribute to Sir Oliver Napier, whose funeral was held yesterday. He was a founding father and leader of the Alliance party, and a member of the power-sharing Executive in 1974. He led the way towards inclusive politics, and was widely respected across the entire community. He will be much missed.

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe. Despite the overwhelming community rejection of violence, the terrorist groups continue to pose an indiscriminate threat to the safety of police officers and the general public, who want their lives to be free of fear, disruption and intimidation.

The violent scenes that we have witnessed in part of east Belfast in recent days are obviously a matter of great concern. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending our support and gratitude to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for its restraint, courage and success in combating that disorder as well as the continuing terrorist threat in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and I wholly endorse his comments. I happily put on record the Government’s deep appreciation of the restraint and skill with which the PSNI handled the recent disturbances.

However, I would put out a public appeal to all those who are considering expressing their views over the next few days. They, too, should show restraint. I remind them that the rule of law will prevail, and that this week, significant prosecutions have resulted from charges against those who broke the law a year ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that close co-operation between the PSNI, the Garda, and Ministers here, in Belfast and in Dublin, is essential in combating the ongoing terrorist threat? Will he join me in congratulating the Garda on its recent discovery of an arms cache and arrests in County Louth?

It is almost impossible to stress how closely we are now working. Last week, I met Eamon Gilmore, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I had several discussions in the last week with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. I also recently saw the Garda commissioner. The Garda is to be wholly congratulated on its recent raid at Hackballscross in County Louth, where a significant amount of lethal matériel was apprehended. I am delighted to confirm that the co-operation with the PSNI gets better from month to month.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time of such pressure on the public finances, the exceptional deal to the give the PSNI an extra £200 million over the next four years is a clear demonstration that this Government will always stand by Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to remind the House that we endorsed £50 million last year and a further unprecedented £200 million over the next four years. We are absolutely determined to bear down on the current threat, and I am delighted that Matt Baggot, the Chief Constable, to whom I spoke this morning, confirmed that we

“have the resources, the resilience and…the commitment”

to meet that threat.

All of us in the House are concerned about the recent violence in east Belfast and acknowledge the challenges facing the PSNI. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a very significant role for the Northern Ireland Executive in tackling the underlying causes that fuel that violence?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question. The problem cannot be contained by security activity alone, however well co-ordinated and well funded by the PSNI and the Garda. Ultimately, this must be sorted out on the ground, by local politicians working with local people. That was confirmed in the Independent Monitoring Commission report that said:

“The main responsibility for dealing with these challenges rests with the Assembly, the Executive and local politicians, working in conjunction with community leaders, churches, the law enforcement and other public institutions, and ultimately, with the…whole community”.

In 2004, Jane Kennedy, the then Northern Ireland Office Minister, told the House that an inventory of all decommissioned weapons would be published when the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning had completed its work. The IICD stood down on Monday, but no inventory was published. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why that pledge was not honoured, and does he accept that that will affect public confidence?

The IICD made it clear why it did not publish an inventory. We would like to be in the position to publish this data, as the then Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, Jane Kennedy, was back in 2003-04, but the success of the IICD has been its independence, and it is for it to decide—it is entirely within its remit—where it puts this information. It is now in the hands of the US Secretary of State and cannot be divulged without the prior agreement of the Irish and British Governments.

I acknowledge the information that the Secretary of State has just given us about dissident activity, the report published by the Independent Monitoring Commission last Monday and the fact that the level of dissident activity is now higher than when it published its first report in 2004. The report stated that loyalist groups were finding it difficult to contemplate going out of business. In that context, does he agree that whatever we do to bring the paramilitary activity to a peaceful conclusion, it will not be achieved by throwing money at gang leaders, as has been suggested in east Belfast over the past few weeks?

I just quoted from the IMC report showing that these problems will not be resolved by one simple solution. They have to be resolved on the ground by working with local people at the closest level. That means down to community groups and local politicians. It is not for us to lay down the law from Westminster. That is now in local hands.

Will the Secretary of State give us some guidance on the extent to which the police and his office are getting co-operation from all communities in identifying those responsible for the ongoing terrorist activities on both sides of the divide?

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The police are conducting a review and a serious investigation into the disturbances last week, and it would be wrong to pre-empt what they discover. However, once we have the information from the police, we will make further decisions.