In July 2011, when I laid the final report of the IMC before the House, I made a commitment to provide twice yearly updates summarising the threat. This statement is the first such update and represents our assessment of the current position.
During the past six months all the dissident republican groups have remained active in Northern Ireland, and the threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe meaning an attack is highly likely.
The threat level in Great Britain is substantial, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility.
There have been 13 attacks against national security targets in Northern Ireland since 1 August 2011. These have included attacks on police officers as well as small bombs deployed against a bank in Newry and the city of culture offices in Londonderry. The most recent attacks have included the attempted murder of a soldier on 5 January 2012, a pipe bomb recovered at the scene of a fire in West Belfast on 17 January 2012 and two pipe bombs set off in Londonderry on 19 January 2012.
Many other potential attacks have been prevented by the actions of security and law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border.
While there were fewer attacks in 2011 than in 2010, the intent and capability of dissident republican terrorists remains high. At present, the threat appears to have stabilised as a result of the activities of security and law enforcement agencies. However, there remains a high level of underlying terrorist activity and planning.
The most active groups at present are:
The Real IRA (RIRA);
The Continuity IRA (CIRA);
Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH).
In addition, there are a number of unaffiliated terrorists who are also active. All of these groups are dangerous and pose a real threat—primarily to police officers but also, through their actions, to the wider public.
The UDA and UVF leaderships remain committed to their ceasefires, although there has been unsanctioned violent activity by members of both groups.
Both loyalist and republican groups continue to be involved in a wide range of acts of criminality. Both also continue to carry out paramilitary style assaults and shootings.
I am grateful to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána and the Security Service for their tireless efforts to address the real and severe threat posed by terrorists in Northern Ireland.
I am confident that the national security arrangements are operating in line with the principles set out in annex E to the St Andrew’s Agreement. As I informed the House on 19 December 2011, Official Report, column l45WS, Lord Carlile’s recent report on the operation of arrangements for handling national security matters in Northern Ireland expressed satisfaction that there are no difficulties of any significance in the inter-operability between the PSNI and the Security Service. He concluded that their sound working partnership should be commended. Lord Carlile said that he believed that, compared with 2010, 2011 saw more success in containing and stabilising the threat and noted that there were fewer incidents and fewer major attacks.
As this House is well aware, tackling terrorism in all its forms and within the rule of law remains the highest priority for this Government. We will continue to work as closely as possible with our strategic partners in the PSNI, Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to counter this threat.