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Security Situation

Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2012

1. What recent assessment she has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. (123801)

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at “severe”. Excellent work and co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners has put those involved in terrorism under huge pressure. We continue to be vigilant in our efforts to counter the threat posed by those groupings, whose activities are condemned by the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her position. Security sources tell us that paramilitary involvement was evident in the public disorder around the disputed parades this summer. What is her assessment of loyalist paramilitary involvement in the riots seen in Belfast in July and August?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her congratulations. I pay tribute to my predecessor, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), for all the work that he did for Northern Ireland. I also take this opportunity to reflect on the contribution that Sir Stuart Bell made to Northern Ireland as a Front-Bench spokesman. He was a great Member of this House and will be much missed.

In response to the hon. Lady’s question on public disorder, it was deeply regrettable that we saw scenes on our television screens a few weeks ago that many had started to associate with Northern Ireland’s past. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is determined to ensure that those scenes are dealt with, and we are doing everything that we can to support its efforts to crack down on paramilitaries and on rioting of the disgraceful sort that we saw in September.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that every measure will be taken to prevent the so-called new IRA from destabilising the political process?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants. A huge amount of effort is being put in by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners. I also commend the contribution of the Garda Siochana in the efforts to counter terrorism. We are determined to defeat the threat of people who continue to have lethal intent and will do everything that we can to prevent them from achieving their aims.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her position, and indeed the Minister of State. I wish them well in their new responsibilities.

The Secretary of State will know that the Home Secretary announced this morning that the threat level from dissident republicans on the mainland has been reduced from “substantial” to “moderate”. Does she share the concern of many people that such an announcement may be premature and somewhat counter-productive? Will she assure the House, given the recent experience of intelligence-level reports, that there will be no reduction in security and no complacency on the part of the security forces?

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. We will continue to be vigilant in the face of the continuing threat of Northern Ireland-related terrorism. He will appreciate that the change announced today relates to Great Britain, as he said. The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at “severe”. In both Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Government are focused on defeating terrorism and we will use all the means at our disposal to do that.

I thank the Secretary of State. She referred to the situation in Northern Ireland and said that the threat level remains at “severe”. In the light of that, has she had discussions with the Chief Constable about the threat level from dissident republicans? Will she look positively on any request from the Chief Constable to extend the Treasury reserve funding of £200 million, which was announced in 2010, to help the PSNI deal with the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland?

I had the opportunity to discuss those matters with the Chief Constable in some detail yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the importance of the £200 million of additional funding, which is devoted to countering the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. We will certainly have discussions with the Chief Constable and the Treasury on what might occur after the cessation of that £200 million of funding.

I, too, welcome the right hon. Lady and her colleague to the Northern Ireland Office. I am quite sure that they will enjoy their posting to the mainland in Northern Ireland. Now on to my question—and it is a serious one.

Given that two very brave, young British soldiers were murdered by dissident republicans at Massereene barracks in March 2009 and that, since then, we have lost several of our soldiers in Afghanistan who grew up in Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Lady confirm exactly when her colleague, the Secretary of State for Defence, will visit Northern Ireland, not to tell the troops that they are to be made redundant, but to boost their morale, beginning with Palace barracks in my constituency of North Down?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, and I will certainly pass on her request to the Secretary of State for Defence. I understand that a Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence is due to visit Northern Ireland fairly soon.

May I begin by paying tribute to my colleague Sir Stuart Bell? He served as a Front-Bench Northern Ireland spokesman and retained a deep affection and concern for the place throughout his time in the House.

I wish the previous Secretary of State well in his new post and welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. I want to work with her constructively and in a bipartisan way, particularly on issues relating to security.

This morning, the Home Office reduced the threat to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism, but the threat in Northern Ireland itself remains “severe”. Will the Secretary of State assure the House and the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no downgrading of the Government’s commitment to combat terrorism anywhere in the United Kingdom?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The change to the threat level does not affect our commitment to bearing down hard on the small minority of people who still seek to use violence and terrorism as a means to achieve political ends.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. Does she agree that we need to confront those who want to destroy peace at both the security and a community level, and that we should not take for granted the progress that has been made?

Young people in socially and economically deprived areas are vulnerable to exploitation by paramilitaries. With one in four out of work, what is the Secretary of State doing to tackle unemployment and ensure that Northern Ireland’s young people get the better future that they were promised and deserve?

I welcome the bipartisan approach that the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue. It is of course vital that we bear down on terrorism using a range of strategies. We have already discussed the £200 million of additional funding that the Government have devoted to countering the security threat and keeping people in Northern Ireland safe and secure. We are doing all we can to boost the economy with our programme to repair the public finances and reduce the deficit. We are reducing corporation tax across the United Kingdom to enhance the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for inward investment, and we are providing tax reliefs for the creative industries, including high-end television. We are determined that Northern Ireland will remain a great place in which to do business.