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Security Situation

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

1. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (90822)

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

Despite overwhelming community rejection of their murderous activity, terrorist groups continue to carry out indiscriminate attacks, as we saw in Londonderry last week. The Government remain committed to countering terrorism in all its forms.

What measures is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that young people do not gravitate to joining paramilitary organisations?

My hon. Friend touches on an important point. The problem cannot be solved by containment alone, although we pay full tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and all those who are working in our security effort. The Prime Minister said that he wants a shared future, not a shared-out future, in Northern Ireland, and we are working closely with the devolved Administration. Only last week, Eamon Gilmore, the Tánaiste, was in Northern Ireland talking to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister about the very schemes to which my hon. Friend refers. A review is taking place to see which are the most effective, and which could be endorsed for a future PEACE IV programme.

Does the Secretary of State understand the anger and fear that is felt in my constituency and, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland, in the light of the release of Colin Duffy, a person charged on three different occasions with the murder of innocent people and who always seems to find a get-out card? What assurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that they will be safe from brutal terrorists such as Colin Duffy, and not become another statistic in a long line of innocent victims?

I entirely sympathise with the concerns of the hon. Gentleman and his constituents. We believe in the separation of powers, and the decision was made by due process. I am delighted that there was one conviction for that appalling incident. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as he knows from our private discussions, the Government will bear down on all terrorists. We have brought a further £200 million to Northern Ireland at the request of the Chief Constable, and we will stand by the PSNI and all those working to eradicate that very small number of totally unhinged, dangerous people.

As the Member for the city of Derry, may I inform the Secretary of State that the overwhelming majority of its citizens deplore and resent the dissidents’ acts of civic sabotage on Ireland’s fourth city? Given the right hon. Gentleman’s locus on some security matters, what input does he have into the justice and security Green Paper, and what engagement is he having with the devolved authorities about its implications for Northern Ireland?

I wholly sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on behalf of his constituents. Last week’s attacks were completely incomprehensible to any sane person: elderly people in a home and disadvantaged young people in a home were at real risk. I pay full tribute to the incredible bravery and professionalism of those PSNI officers who led the evacuation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I work closely with David Ford, the Justice Minister, and the Chief Constable. I spoke to them both this morning, and we are liaising on the justice Green Paper.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the PSNI and others in Northern Ireland who are combating the threat.

Last week saw the inspirational launch of an exciting tourist initiative for Northern Ireland, NI 2012. When so many people are doing so much work to create a better future, does the Secretary of State agree that last week’s bomb attacks in Derry/Londonderry were reckless and futile? Will he guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that all those coping with the terrorist threat are given our full support and the resources that they need to deal with any future threat?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments and for the support he gives me on that in private. He is absolutely right to condemn the attacks, which play absolutely no part in the future of Northern Ireland.

On support for the PSNI, as I have just said, the Chief Constable requested extra funds soon after the Government came to office and we delivered £200 million over the next four years. He is quoted in April last year as saying:

“We have the resources, we have the resilience and we have the commitment.”

I again assure the Secretary of State of the Opposition’s full co-operation in dealing with those matters. He will know that responsibility for national security in Northern Ireland rests with him. What assessment has he made of the effectiveness of the security services’ performance and the implementation of the five key national security protocols agreed between the security services and the PSNI at St Andrews?

I am happy to confirm that Lord Carlile, in his third annual report earlier this year, confirmed that MI5 and the PSNI are working very closely together. More work could not be done more energetically to deal with the difficult dissident republican threat.

The devolution of policing and justice reinforced the determination of the political parties in Northern Ireland to face down the small minority who still engage in violence, but legislation stipulates that the Justice Department will disappear in May unless the Assembly resolves that it should continue. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the current thinking within the Executive and the details of any action he might need to take to maintain progress?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s hard work when he ran security under direct rule. As he rightly says, the position is that the current arrangements cease in May this year. Negotiations are going on within the Executive between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, in which the Government are also involved. As I understand it, the incumbent, David Ford, has the full support of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. For the Government’s part, where we have overlapping roles, we have strong support for him and get on with him extremely well. I was in Dublin recently and I can confirm that Alan Shatter, the Irish Justice and Equality Minister, also enjoys working with David Ford. I hope that in due course this will become—