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Northern Ireland Security (Update)

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

The Government are committed to putting greater information in the public domain about security threats to the United Kingdom generally. At the time of announcing the winding-up of the Independent Monitoring Commission, I made a commitment to provide bi-annual updates to this House on the security situation in Northern Ireland. I made the first of these statements in February and this is my second such update.

Shortly after coming to office the Government reviewed the security situation and developed a new strategic approach to tackling Northern Ireland related terrorism. We agreed in 2011 an exceptional additional £200 million of investment for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) over four years. This is producing results.

There are still a small number who favour violence and reject democracy. They have no respect for life, no respect for human rights and no respect for the will of the people in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

As a result of their activities, the threat level in Northern Ireland remains at “Severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely.

The threat level in Great Britain is “Substantial”, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility.

While the overall threat levels remain the same, however, progress has been made. The excellent work of the PSNI and other partners tackling the current threat has led to some considerable successes in recent months, with some significant arrests, charges and convictions.

There have been a total of 76 arrests so far this year, including arrests by An Garda Síochána in the Republic of Ireland. There have also been 37 charges against those involved in national security attacks brought since January 2012, including a number of charges for serious terrorism related offences. A number of weapons and improvised explosive devices have been seized. These combined efforts have had a positive impact. Despite this, however, attacks continue and the intent of groups engaged in Northern Ireland related terrorism remains high.

The Real IRA (RIRA), the Continuity IRA (CIRA), and the group that refers to itself as Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) all continue to be very active, as do a number of “unaffiliated”, but no less dangerous, individuals. In June, the paramilitary organisation Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), which regularly conducts brutal shootings against people in Londonderry, attacked the PSNI with a pipe bomb. The PSNI is pursuing a strategy to tackle the actions of both this group and other reckless vigilante organisations, which command little support from the wider community.

Terrorists continue to seek access to funding and weaponry. They have been undertaking training as well as targeting. Paramilitary groups also continue to be involved in a range of criminal activity, often at the expense of their own communities—both to fund their activities and their individual lifestyles.

Since my last statement on 27 February 2012, Official Report, column 16WS, there have been nine confirmed national security attacks (bringing the total to 14 confirmed attacks so far this year). All but one have been pipe bombs, which have primarily been used to attack PSNI officers or their families. These included a device thrown at a property where PSNI were attending a call out and a number of pipe bombs, which were thrown at PSNI officers while carrying out a clearance operation of a suspicious object. In the most recent confirmed national security attack, a pipe bomb was thrown at a PSNI vehicle patrol; the device functioned but did not cause any injuries or damage to the vehicle. The other attack was a large improvised explosive device containing over 600 lb of home made explosive which was abandoned near the Irish border at Newry. This was successfully defused by ammunition technical officers. It was destined to be an attack on the community in Northern Ireland and would certainly have endangered lives.

In addition to the attacks outlined above, during rioting in North Belfast on 12 July a number of shots were fired at police officers who were there to ensure compliance with the legal determination of the Parades Commission and to facilitate the rights of both loyalist and nationalist members of the community. This should be considered nothing less than the attempted murder of police officers.

There have been no serious injuries as a result of national security attacks this year. We cannot, however, be complacent. The devices used have all had the potential to cause death or serious injury. The community in Northern Ireland have had their daily lives disrupted as a result of terrorist activities.

In addition to direct attacks, terrorist groups seeking to attack the police in Northern Ireland have continued to use hoax devices, acts of criminal damage or orchestrated disorder to create fear in the community and draw police into areas in order to attack them. This tactic is designed to make it harder for the PSNI to provide a good community policing service and should be roundly condemned by all. Despite that, confidence levels in policing across Northern Ireland have continued to rise. The chief constable continues to place community policing at the heart of his policing plan.

As I noted in my last written ministerial statement on the current threat in Northern Ireland, the UDA and UVF leaderships remain committed to their ceasefires, although individuals associated with these groups continue to be engaged in criminal activity.

Both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continue to carry out paramilitary style assaults. Republican paramilitary groups also continue to carry out shootings on members of their own community. These attacks are both cowardly and sickening. They show a complete disregard for the human rights of their victims and for their families.

The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland stand by the principle that Northern Ireland’s future will only ever be determined by democracy and consent, as established by the Belfast agreement. This is a settlement that requires all those involved in the political process to pursue legitimate goals through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

Cross-border co-operation in the area of security is vital. I keep in very close contact with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, and the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD. The levels of co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána to tackle the threat is unprecedented and has almost certainly saved lives.

In conclusion this Government remain committed to tackling the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we continue to do this in pursuit of our objectives of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which everyone has a genuinely shared future.