I beg to move,
That this House extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Prison Officer David Black, whose murder represented an attack upon society as a whole; condemns the violence of the various republican terrorist groups now active in Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive in providing the fullest possible protection to members of the prison service and the security forces generally, and to ensure that all necessary resources and measures are deployed to combat the threat from terrorists in Northern Ireland.
At the very outset of this debate I want once again to place on record, on behalf of my hon. Friends, and I am sure everybody in this House, our heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Prison Officer David Black—an innocent public servant going to work when he was brutally gunned down in cold blood by despicable criminals. His death will leave a massive void in the lives of his wife and children that will never be filled. We continue to think of Mrs Black and her children; our thoughts and prayers are with them. There is no doubt that Mrs Black’s call at the time of her husband’s murder for no retaliation was an example of immense courage and bravery, which, as I said in response to the Secretary of State’s statement at the time, stood in stark contrast to the darkness in the hearts of her husband’s killers. We will remember him and his colleagues, and all those who have died in the service of defending Northern Ireland. It is our duty to do all we can, as far as possible, to ensure that this kind of violence is thwarted and defeated.
There is no doubt about the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over recent years. As the Prime Minister has said, his announcement yesterday that Fermanagh would host the G8 summit next June would have previously been unthinkable—he said it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, but I think it would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. It is an immense opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase its talents and the opportunities that we can provide to a worldwide audience. It is a momentous event. We warmly welcome the announcement and thank the Prime Minister for taking that step, which is a mark of the progress we have made. Another was the visit by Her Majesty to the Irish Republic last year and the diamond jubilee celebrations that took place in Northern Ireland, where for the first time in decades—I think maybe for the first time ever—Her Majesty was able to be greeted by thousands of ordinary people in Belfast and move about in an open-top vehicle without the massive security that would normally attend any kind of event involving Her Majesty. Again, that is an indication of the progress that has been made.
There is also the ongoing work that happens every day at Stormont and throughout Northern Ireland—parties working together, alongside the First and Deputy First Ministers, with Ministers representing a number of parties doing the day-to-day work of government, committed to working for and on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland. It is important to put on record the gains that have been made through devolution in Northern Ireland. Even today, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) has tabled early-day motion 752, which draws attention to other significant achievements for Belfast and Londonderry, which is now recognised as the fourth best city in the world to visit, according to the “Lonely Planet” guide, and will be the UK city of culture next year. These are immense strides forward in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to everyone, right across the community and across all parties, who has played a part in bringing about that progress and, of course, to successive Governments as well.
But Mr Black’s murder showed us that, despite the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, there remains a crazed and fanatical republican element that is determined to try to drag our community backwards, into the darkest days of the past. Just last Monday a viable explosive device, which police said was designed to kill and maim, was discovered near my constituency off the Ballygomartin road. The device was found near a local school—Springhill primary school—and if it had gone off, the consequences, in terms of loss of life or serious injury to innocent civilians and schoolchildren, would have been very serious indeed. The device is thought to have fallen from the vehicle that belonged to its intended target, either a police officer or a soldier.
That incident, coming after the murder of David Black, shows that we are in a very serious situation indeed. Nor do we forget the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in April last year, or the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll in March 2009, which came just two days after the killing of Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at Massereene barracks. All those murders were carried out by so-called dissident republicans. There have also been many attacks and incidents that have been successfully thwarted by the excellent work of the police, through intelligence and co-operation with other elements of the security forces, including those in the Irish Republic. These murders all demonstrate the intent of the republican groups and the greater degree of planning and organisation that is now evident.
It is sometimes easy, especially from the perspective of those on this side of the Irish sea, to believe that everything in Northern Ireland is now sorted out.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would agree that it would be helpful if the Government were to sanction the publication of the inventories of the weapons that were decommissioned by loyalist terrorists—because that is what they were—and republican terrorists, supervised by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, so that the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom generally could compare what is claimed to have been decommissioned with what we reckon still to be available out there to enable dissident republicans to carry out yet another ghastly murder. I join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning the murder of the prison officer and in giving the greatest praise to his wonderful family, who have shown themselves to be beacons of dignity.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She raises an issue that has been raised a number of times by Members from Northern Ireland and elsewhere about the decommissioning process. We have said on previous occasions that it would be useful for the process that we are engaged in if the public were allowed to know exactly what was decommissioned by the various terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. I remember attending meetings with the decommissioning body, along with other hon. Friends, at which we sought clarification as to the circumstances in which that information would eventually be released. My understanding was that a judgment would be made at a suitable juncture when the entire decommissioning process was finished. It was certainly the intention of General de Chastelain, who was then the chairman of the decommissioning body, that the information should be released in due course. It would be helpful if it were released, for the reasons that the hon. Lady has given.
We were among those who wanted the greatest possible transparency for the decommissioning process. Indeed, we pressed for it to be made clear to the public, through video evidence and photographs, exactly what was being decommissioned. Famously, however, the republican leadership refused to abide by that at the time. Unfortunately, their refusal to accept that reasonable argument, which was designed to reassure people in Northern Ireland that what was happening was real and sincere, delayed the introduction of devolution by some considerable time. It raised doubts about the sincerity of the republican movement.
I was making the point that people can sometimes fall into the belief that everything has been sorted out and settled, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The events that I have been describing, including the tragic murder of David Black, have served to remind everyone that massive challenges remain. I know that the Ministers and shadow Ministers who are here today do not hold that belief, but it is important that we should debate the issues here today and consider them carefully. We need to take note of the progress that has been made, as well as making it clear to the people of Northern Ireland that there is no complacency and no sense of the challenges being underestimated.
The criminals want to take the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland back to the days of death, bloodshed and mayhem, but all of us in Northern Ireland and here, throughout the country, are determined that they will not succeed. After the death of David Black, the First Minister said:
“The Assembly and the Executive will not fall or collapse—far from it. We are united in condemnation and reinforced in our determination to create a stable, shared and peaceful society.”
He was absolutely right in his assessment. Those evil people will not succeed. Such terrorism did not succeed in the past, and it will not succeed now.
It is important to make the point that the violence that was carried out in the past, over 30 or 40 years, by the Provisional IRA was just as despicable, unnecessary and evil as the violence that is being carried out today by the so-called dissidents. I echo the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that the violence that was carried out by other groups, on the loyalist side, was terrorism. It is important for the sake of the victims that we do not get into a mindset of thinking that all the violence today is terrible while the violence that took place in the past was part of a conflict in which there could be grey areas and justifications. The violence that was carried out by the Provisional IRA, and others, for 35 years was just as evil as the violence that is being carried out today. It was never justified then, and it is not justified now.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. A few days ago, I attended the remembrance service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb, and nothing could have made the point that he is making more clearly than that. The unnecessary nature of that act still lives with us today. I echo his assertion that we must never forget those people either.
It was excellent that the hon. Gentleman and colleagues from the Northern Ireland Select Committee were able to be in Enniskillen to join the First Minister and other elected representatives, the families of the victims and members of the community in County Fermanagh on that solemn occasion. There are many reminders: we are coming up to the anniversary of the Ballykelly bombing as well. These events serve to remind us of the callous, evil and despicable nature of the violence that was carried out against the people of Northern Ireland and against the security forces.
It is worth remembering what happened in Enniskillen in 1987. One of those who was killed was a close personal friend of mine. Enniskillen is the town where I grew up and went to school, and I knew many of the people who were involved in that incident. The fact that now, 25 years on, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is able to announce the gathering of the world’s leaders for a G8 summit in that same county of Fermanagh is a fantastic illustration of the progress that has been made, and a fantastic vindication of the courage and steadfastness of the ordinary people who stood against the terrorists and were determined that they would not succeed in tearing down the fabric of their society.
I should like to pay tribute to the ongoing courage and steadfastness of the people of Northern Ireland, especially the officials there. We do not quite understand how the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland live with a certain threat. They have to go outside their house and check their car, for example, and they can never be certain what is going to happen. That tension is there in their lives all the time. I hope that when they come over here, that tension lessens, but the people of Northern Ireland never get rid of it. This House must always understand that the tension remains: we want it to go, but the only way of achieving that is by continuing developments towards peace.
The hon. Gentleman has enormous experience, having served in Northern Ireland. He and his colleagues who served in the armed forces have helped to contribute to bringing about the peaceful circumstances of today. He is right to remind us of the continuing issues that many people, including members of the security forces, have. I shall come on to deal with the issues affecting prison officers in more detail shortly. Members of those forces in our constituencies have come to our offices and have spoken to us about their worries about their personal security. The hon. Gentleman is right that members of the police service and people who are connected in any way with the security forces might be seen as some kind of target by these dissident terrorists. We all live daily with these kinds of threats or potential threats. People often say, “Well, there’s no specific intelligence out there to indicate that any particular individual is at risk”, yet we have discovered—we know from the recent tragic events—that that does not necessarily provide any reassurance at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments.
The victims, to whom we referred earlier, continue to live with the scars and wounds of the violence inflicted on them—and they will carry those wounds to their graves. It is important that we never forget the sacrifice of the innocent and the victims and their families and the loved ones left behind.
Coming on to the issue of personal security, prison officers and their families are living every day with the threat of murder and injury hanging over their heads. During the worst of the violence in the Province, more than two dozen prison officers lost their lives to terrorists. This was a deliberate strategy by republicans and loyalists to win concessions for their prisoners serving time for terrorist-related offences. Just as the murder of those officers was met with widespread and near-universal revulsion in the community in the past, so will this latest attempt to intimidate and suborn the forces of law and order.
On personal protection for prison officers, police officers and their families, we have some serious concerns about the present personal protection arrangements—the maintenance of protection equipment, for instance, in the homes and other places where members of the security forces have those arrangements in place. The arrangements must be robust enough to ensure the security of those who work in our prisons and in our police service. This is an area in which the Government have a duty to act. The Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State oversee the home protection scheme, which prison and police officers avail themselves of, and it is within their power to ensure that the fullest possible protection is afforded to those officers. I encourage them to do everything in their power in that regard.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme in Northern Ireland—I accept that this is mainly a devolved matter, but it touches on national security issues— we have prison officers, police officers and others who have had to leave their family home and move to alternative accommodation? They are being seriously disadvantaged because the value of their home has reduced significantly, particularly if they purchased it at the height of the property boom. They now face the prospect of losing a lot of money. Should we not be looking to find ways of compensating those people who, through no fault of their own—it was because of a security threat—now find themselves out of their home and facing a substantial loss?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, which I know has been raised in the context of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know that the Minister for Social Development, whose Department administers the SPED scheme in Northern Ireland, has also been looking at this issue. As my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, members of the security forces were told that they had to move. The criteria for qualifying under the SPED scheme have a quite high threshold, so people are granted support only in the most extreme circumstances where their life may be in danger. People often find themselves with negative equity—a problem not of their own creation.
A wider issue connected with the SPED scheme, about which I have been concerned for some time, is the fact that the money spent on the scheme comes out of the Northern Ireland housing budget. I think that is something that needs to be looked at. SPED is a security-related measure, so it needs to be looked at in that context rather than being seen as a housing issue. The specific matter raised by my right hon. Friend has, I think, been the subject of some discussion between the Minister of Justice, the Chief Constable and the Minister for Social Development. It is certainly an issue that we need to continue to raise on behalf of our constituents.
The SPED scheme is clearly intended to help those who are in particular trouble. As a result of the tragic murder of David Black, a number of prison officers from my constituency who were worried about the SPED scheme came to see me. I hope that in the response to this debate the Government will outline how the SPED system can be sped up—how it could work faster, to a time scale that people need. Secondly, can some consideration be given to people who have to move out of their houses quickly—the costs of buying a new house, getting a new mortgage, and so on? Many aspects of the SPED scheme need to be sorted out. Perhaps the Government will give us some response on that today.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, as it is a real practical outworking and consequence of the security situation in Northern Ireland. The issue has not arisen only in the past few weeks or only following the tragic murder of David Black; it has been an issue for some considerable time. People have been told about security issues by the police. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) mentioned, Members of this House have been spoken to about personal security issues. For obvious reasons, we are not going to go into the detail, but these are serious issues. It is entirely wrong that people who qualify under the SPED scheme and find themselves having their house purchased in order to move should face terrible financial consequences, given that their lives are at risk and they find themselves in that position through the fault of terrorists and through no fault whatever of their own.
I know of a number of prison officers who have been told that they qualify for the Prison Service’s protection scheme and measures but who have been refused other protection offered by the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Executive. There is clearly an issue, and I seek the reassurance of the Secretary of State—I am sure she will be able to give it—that there is no question of resources or money forming any part of any decision to deny any police officer or prison officer the protection that they need to be given under any scheme to ensure their personal security. We would all agree that we should pay tribute to all those who do such sterling service, but it has to go beyond just paying tribute to them. When things happen, we should take cognisance of their concerns and as far as possible avert any kind of threat to them. That applies, of course, right across the board.
The issuing of licences to carry personal protection weapons has been raised with me and other colleagues, along with the refusal to renew those licences for people who have legitimate and well-founded concerns about their personal security. There has been a tendency for that to happen in recent years. A week or two ago, a man came to my office and told me that although he had been informed that he was under threat, his personal protection weapon licence was being withdrawn, which he found incomprehensible. He was told that because he was no longer serving, the threat had been reduced. However, although there is no intelligence relating to him suggesting the existence of a specific threat, he feels that he is under threat and in danger, and has given the example of his neighbour David Black, who was murdered.
One can understand how that man feels. He has gone through all the proper processes and is now forced to consider legal action, at his own expense, so that he can try to secure the minimal protection that would afford him peace of mind and enable him to sleep in his home at night. The Police Service of Northern Ireland needs to pay close attention to such issues. When appeals are considered by the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State and other Ministers have a role to play. I know that the Secretary of State will also pay close attention to those issues, because they are of real concern to people and we have raised them in the past.
The people of Northern Ireland have suffered for too long as a consequence of the acts of terrorists down the years. Those of us who know our history are aware that the Provisional IRA, which wreaked so much havoc in our country for so many years, started out as a splinter group. It is easy nowadays to dismiss groups that are currently active as “splinter groups”, “small groups” or “micro-groups”, but it should be borne in mind that the provos originated as a breakaway movement from the official IRA. If we are not to condemn a further generation in Ulster, we must act swiftly and decisively, now, to bring those people to book.
A short time ago, the Home Secretary announced that the level of threat from dissident republicans here on the mainland of Great Britain had been reduced from “substantial” to “moderate”. In Northern Ireland, it remains “substantial”. At that time, in the House, I expressed the fear of many people that the announcement might have been premature and somewhat counter-productive. I said that given the recent experience of intelligence reports, or the lack of them, people needed to be reassured that there would be no reduction in security, and no complacency on the part of the security forces. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would tell us whether the Government have sought or received any new assessment in the wake of the murder of David Black, and whether they are satisfied with the current threat level assessment overall.
Many people seemed surprised by the announcement that the various dissident groups had united to form an umbrella group which styled itself simply “the IRA”. That was the group that claimed responsibility for the murder of David Black. In a speech in September 2010 entitled “The Threat to National Security”, Jonathan Evans, the director general of the Security Service, noted that the largest dividing lines between the various republican dissident terrorists groups at that time were based on
“marginal distinctions or personal rivalries”.
It is now clear to many of us that those marginal distinctions and personal rivalries have, to some extent, ceased to exist, and that the groups are starting to coalesce, which is an extremely serious development. I understand that the “IRA” group which has claimed responsibility for the murder of David Black appears to consist of elements of the Real IRA and other factions based in the Lurgan area, and that is certainly very serious.
The Secretary of State must conduct a review to establish whether the proscriptions that already apply to the various terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland apply to the newly formed umbrella group. If they do not, the Government must move to apply them without delay. If it is proved that a person is involved in such activity, that person should face the full rigour of the law, and should be in no doubt that he or she will spend a very long time in prison.
Many inhabitants of Northern Ireland are greatly concerned when they hear of an incident, hear that certain people have been questioned and arrested—and have been continually questioned and arrested in connection with similar offences—and then hear that, unfortunately, they have either been released after a few days, or have not been convicted when brought to trial. Those living in the area in which such people operate, and in Northern Ireland generally, are well aware of the serious threat that is posed.
Of course we must be conscious of the rule of law and of due process. However, bearing in mind the efforts that are made to remove people from the United Kingdom, here in London or elsewhere, because they pose a threat to national security, many of my constituents ask me what real efforts are being made—proactively as opposed to reactively, following a terrible event—to get to grips with individuals who are known by the police, and indeed by everyone, to be involved in serious acts of terrorism and criminality and the organisation of terrorist acts. That is another issue that the Secretary of State should address.
The apparent closer organisation of dissident terror groups in Northern Ireland adds greatly to the challenges facing the PSNI and the security forces. All necessary resources must be made available to the Chief Constable to combat the terrorist threat. Early in 2011, the Government announced the provision of an additional £200 million for the PSNI budget to enable the police to counteract the dissident republican terrorist threat, and at the same time the Northern Ireland Executive provided an extra £45 million for security purposes. That money was received very gratefully by the police, and I assure the House that it has been critical to ensuring that more people have not been murdered at the hands of terrorists. However, the police will face a range of challenges in the months ahead. The Chief Constable has expressed concern about what the forthcoming comprehensive spending review will mean for the delivery of front-line policing services. I urge the Government to look favourably on any future request for additional resources, beyond the block grant allocation. The Chief Constable has made no call for extra money so far, but the Government should not be surprised if such a call is made in the future.
The circumstances faced by the police in Northern Ireland are way beyond the day-to-day challenges and problems faced by any regional police force in England, Scotland or Wales. The rate at which officers are leaving the force is higher than expected. The PSNI is losing, through retirement, a great deal of the experience and expertise in key fields such as crime investigation and counter-terrorism that are so crucial in counteracting terrorism. As a consequence of the faster than expected retirement rate, a new recruitment campaign will be launched next year, but it will obviously take time to plug the gaps caused by the loss of senior and experienced officers.
A judicial review of the use of managed services contracts by the PSNI is currently under way. If it succeeds, it will pose an enormous risk to the capacity of the police service. I believe that binding the hands of the police in such a way risks the incurring of massive costs, perhaps amounting to between £50 million and £60 million a year. The PSNI has been forced to employ agency staff, as a direct result—in my view—of the Patten report, which had the effect of driving years of experience and expertise out of the police service and creating a massive void in talent and skills within the organisation. The Auditor and Comptroller General has acknowledged that the police in Northern Ireland face a major challenge because of a loss of talent which is without precedent in any other public sector body.
As my right hon. Friend knows, increasing numbers of PSNI officers are resigning from the service. That is a trend at present, rather than a spike, but more officers now join and spend just a few years in the service, rather than a lifetime. Instead of dedicating themselves to a career, many of them now get out after a short time. That makes it more difficult for the PSNI to serve the public properly.
I agree. That trend is clear in many of our local areas, even among senior officers. My constituency of Belfast North faces big policing challenges: as well as addressing the security threat, our PSNI officers have to police protests against parades and civil disturbances such as those we saw over the summer. Increasingly, we are seeing senior police officers staying in the area for a relatively short period of time. Just when they have started to get to know the area and its issues and various personalities on all sides they are moved on somewhere else, and a new officer comes in and that process starts all over again.
Having said that, I pay tribute to our police officers at both senior and rank-and-file level. They do a very good job in very difficult circumstances, but they need to be backed up with the assurance that whatever resources are needed to combat the threat of terrorism will be given to them. They must be assured that they will not have to scrimp and save, because the public in Northern Ireland are entitled to the ordinary benefits of policing as well. Northern Ireland faces serious issues to do with not only the troubles, but drugs, burglary and community policing. Our constituents must not suffer in those regards because resources are diverted to tackle terrorism.
On the issue of crime in general, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as a consequence of our history of paramilitary activity, racketeering is a particular problem in Northern Ireland, as many people who have moved away from their paramilitary past have not moved away from its associated criminality?
The hon. Lady and I both represent Belfast constituencies, so we know very well the problems that remain. She is right to highlight the link between criminality and people who were formerly heavily engaged in paramilitary activity. That has been an enormous problem. Although many people formerly involved in paramilitary organisations are today making genuine efforts to move their communities forward, unfortunately others try to have a foot in both camps. We must ensure that the full rigour of the law comes down upon those who want to have it both ways, but we should help those who have genuinely changed.
There is no doubt that the overall security situation is very different now from what it was 25 years ago. However, although the dark days of the past have gone, it would be reckless to ignore the significant challenges we face. We must therefore debate these matters, as we are doing today. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State, and I commend the motion to the House.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who made a very considered speech in which he set out some of the serious concerns that are felt about security in Northern Ireland. I welcome his emphasis on the positive achievements as well, however, and the steps that have been taken to transform the security situation for the better over recent years.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Democratic Unionist party colleagues for providing the House with this opportunity to debate what is a very important subject not only for Northern Ireland, but for the entire United Kingdom. Sadly, it is inevitable that our debate this afternoon has been overshadowed by the despicable murder of Prison Officer David Black as he drove to work one morning after 30 years of dedicated service to his community. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that act of brutality serves to remind us all of the continuing threat posed by the individuals who reject the principles of democracy and consent, and instead seek to pursue their aims by violence and murder. In answer to the questions the right hon. Gentleman put to me in his speech, the UK Government’s efforts to combat that terrorist threat remain resolute.
I know that all Members in the House today will continue to keep the family, friends and colleagues of David Black in our thoughts as they seek to cope with their devastating loss. I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the dignified and courageous response of Mrs Black. I also want to update the House on the investigation. Of course, I can share few details with colleagues in this public forum, but the news this morning is that two further arrests have been made and searches have been carried out in the Coalisland area. I repeat the appeal I made previously in my statement to the House: anyone with information on this crime or any other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland should come forward and contact the police as a matter of urgency.
As well as being a personal tragedy, this cowardly murder represents an attack on the wider community. Yet contrary to the ambitions of the so-called dissidents, such attacks serve only to strengthen the determination of the vast majority in all parts of the community to move forward and to see violence and terrorism left behind as part of Northern Ireland’s past, and not its future. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the response of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister who were resolute in their condemnation of Mr Black’s murder. Similar condemnations came from the rest of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, demonstrating the widespread revulsion at what happened that morning on the M1 motorway. They also demonstrate our unity of purpose in ensuring that these terrorists will never succeed in wrecking the progress that has been made, or in dragging Northern Ireland back to its troubled past.
Does the Secretary of State agree that in acknowledging the tremendous dignity of the Black family in calling on the community to ensure that there be no act of revenge for the murder of David, we must also acknowledge that the family has also demanded that those who perpetrated this act be brought to justice?
As the Secretary of State will know, with the murder of David Black, 30 prison officers have now been murdered in Northern Ireland. The Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation has a beautiful memorial garden at police headquarters in Belfast. Please will the Secretary of State support the establishment of a memorial garden for murdered prison officers in Northern Ireland? Organisations including the Prison Officers Association have long campaigned valiantly on this issue, and its chairman, Finlay Spratt, has given sterling leadership. Plans were afoot seven years ago. Such a garden would be a wonderful tribute to David Black and the other prison officers who have been murdered through the years of terrorism. It would be a fit and proper gesture and acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by prison officers through 30 years of terrible events in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that thoughtful suggestion. The Minister of State and I will certainly reflect on it, and I am happy to discuss it with the Northern Ireland Executive.
The right hon. Member for Belfast North referred to the new grouping that has apparently formed in Northern Ireland from a number of different terrorist groups. My emphasis would be on the fact that however they brand themselves, these groupings are condemned across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. The numbers involved in dissident activity continue to be small. The dissidents have almost no support, they despise the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past two decades and they act in defiance of the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Ireland, north and south, who voted overwhelmingly to back the political settlement we have today. Yet it is all too clear that these disparate groupings can still cause damage and ruin lives.
I am not suggesting, in any way, that the Secretary of State’s words imply any level of complacency about the strength of support in the community for dissident terrorists, but in the last elections dissident republican terrorist candidates achieved 2,000 votes in the two west Belfast wards of the Falls—that is in the heartland of Sinn Fein. We must recognise that if this beast is not dealt with decisively now, it will grow. We saw that in the past with the provisionals, who were small in number but are now the largest republican party—nationalist, constitutional party—in Northern Ireland. It could happen again.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government remain vigilant on the terrorist threat; we are taking it extremely seriously. As he will see as my remarks conclude, we believe that tackling the terrorist threat effectively requires not just a security response, but a wider strategy designed to choke off any potential support for the so-called “dissident groupings”. I think there is widespread acceptance that securing a prosperous Northern Ireland and breaking down sectarian barriers is also an important way to respond in order to eliminate the terrorist threat on a long-term basis. As I say, I will come back to that subject later.
The threat level in Northern Ireland remains “severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely. No alteration has been made to that Security Service assessment, although, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North recognised, the threat level in Great Britain has been adjusted. We remain vigilant in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain, because the terrorists have capability and they have lethal intent. This year has seen 22 national security attacks in Northern Ireland. Although some may have lacked sophistication, they all had the potential to be deadly. Many involved crude pipe bombs, primarily used to target PSNI officers or their families. The right hon. Gentleman highlighted an attack in his constituency, and another particularly reckless attack was the abandonment of a large improvised explosive device containing more than 600 lb of home-made explosive near the Irish border at Newry—the device was successfully defused, but if it had detonated, it could have led to a significant loss of life. Terrorists continue to seek access to funding and weaponry, and they have been undertaking training as well as targeting. Both republican and loyalist groupings are still involved in a range of criminal activities—mention has been made of this—to fund their activities and individual lifestyles.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that there is a limit to what can be said publicly, but there can be no doubt that these criminal activities are playing a significant part in funding terrorist activities.
The republican and loyalist groupings also continue to carry out paramilitary-style assaults on members of their own community. Such attacks are sickening and show a complete disregard for the victims and their families. Terrorists also seek to capitalise on any instances of public disorder or unrest. During rioting in north Belfast on 12 July a number of shots were fired at police officers. That should be considered as nothing less than the attempted murder of police officers, who were there simply to uphold the law and protect people from all parts of the community. I would like to assure the right hon. Member for Belfast North that the PSNI gives the highest priority to protecting the safety of its officers. Indeed, one way in which the £200 million that the UK Government allocated as additional spending to counter the terrorist threat is being deployed is in enabling the PSNI to enhance measures to protect its officers. Measures to protect police officers are, of course, kept under constant review by the PSNI. The Chief Constable takes all the steps he can to protect his officers from the terror threat they face, while retaining his firm commitment to community policing.
The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the importance of the home protection scheme. As he said, the Northern Ireland Office has important responsibilities in relation to the scheme, and we keep those under constant review, too. Our scheme exists to protect people in certain occupations or positions in public life who are assessed to be under “substantial” or “severe” threat. The Minister of State considers other applications where an individual is assessed to be under a real or immediate threat, under our obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights. The PSNI also runs the criminal threats scheme and home security aid scheme, in addition to the Northern Ireland Office’s programme. A range of security measures are provided depending on the threat in each case—I am afraid that it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail.
Intelligence does not always specifically target the correct person; sometimes it does not target the person who has been the subject of a murder attempt or indeed the person who has been murdered. People have come to my office who did not have a specific threat yet travel the same road where people have been murdered or where a murder attempt has been made. Is there not sometimes a need for more flexibility in the system when it comes to assessing not only someone’s individual circumstances, but whether to issue a protection weapon?
Of course in all these cases it is important to look at individual circumstances, and I recommend to anyone who considers that they are under threat that they approach the PSNI about the matter to see what mitigation steps can be taken.
PSNI officers remain the repeated focus of dissident attack planning, with prison officers targeted as well. Terrorist groupings have continued to use hoax devices, acts of criminal damage or orchestrated disorder to create fear in the community and to draw police into situations where they might be vulnerable to attack. That tactic is designed to make it harder for the PSNI to provide community-style policing. It is also, bluntly, aimed at deterring people from joining the police, particularly those from the Catholic community. Yet we should recognise that confidence levels in policing across Northern Ireland have actually risen steadily. Chief Constable Matt Baggott continues to place community policing at the heart of his approach, and the proportion of Catholics in the PSNI has gone up from 8% in 2001 to more than 30% today. The PSNI is genuinely representative of the community it serves, it is one of the most transparent and rigorously scrutinised police services in the world, and I believe that it has the confidence of a significant majority of the people of Northern Ireland. I pay the fullest tribute to the work that Matt Baggott and his officers do in exceptionally difficult circumstances. They carry out their duties with professionalism, impartiality and bravery—that is also true of the Prison Service.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking yet another intervention. She quite rightly mentioned the additional resources given to the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and to the PSNI. We are absolutely thrilled that next year the G8 summit will come to Fermanagh. That is not in my constituency, however—could the summit come to North Down next time? Although we are thrilled about that, will the Secretary of State confirm—to the relief of us all—that additional resources will be made available to the PSNI for the increased security commitment? I am sure that the PSNI will deliver on that commitment to the best of its ability, but it needs finance to do so.
We are committed to ensuring that the policing and security operation for the G8 summit is a success. Of course, appropriate resources will be allocated and we will make an announcement in due course, probably in January, about the budget.
As I have said, Prison Service officers also carry out their duties with dedication and courage and I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work they do. They play a vital role in keeping people in Northern Ireland safe from harm and the Northern Ireland Prison Service keeps arrangements for the personal security of its officers under constant review. The director general of the service, Sue McAllister, is actively considering what further measures might need to be taken in the wake of the attack on David Black and the PSNI has a programme of security briefings under way for prison officers.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and I apologise for not being in the Chamber from the start of the debate. She explained to the House how she and her colleague the Minister of State have responsibility for the home protection scheme. She is now discussing measures to be taken by the Prison Service and has mentioned measures to be taken by the police service, and following devolution they are the responsibility of the Justice Minister and the various agencies. Will she reassure the House that, although the responsibilities are separate, every effort is being made to ensure that the effectiveness of all the measures is joined together wherever possible?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I emphasise that working relationships between the Northern Ireland Office and the Justice Minister are very close and I discuss these matters with David Ford regularly, as well as with the Chief Constable. As the right hon. Gentleman said, a united effort that co-ordinates our respective areas of responsibility is crucial in combating terrorism. I have held a number of discussions about the David Black murder with the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister, and the Minister of State has been in discussions with the Prison Service, too.
The SPED scheme has been mentioned. It falls within the devolved space but I am happy to pass on the comments made today to the responsible Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. I am sure that they will wish to reflect carefully on the comments that have been made and I am sure that they take their responsibilities in this matter very seriously.
Personal protection weapons were also mentioned. Issuing or withdrawing personal protection is a matter for the Chief Constable, as the matter is devolved, and the only NIO involvement is when someone appeals against a decision made by the Chief Constable. The director general of the Prison Service met the PSNI recently to ensure that any prison officer who feels they need a PPW can apply to the police under the normal procedures. Following concerns raised after the murder of David Black, Sue McAllister said:
“I have checked and to my knowledge no prison officer has been told that his or her personal protection weapon is to be withdrawn”.
She went on to say:
“I will certainly be making sure that any prison officer who wishes to have a personal protection weapon will be able to apply to the police service as per our procedures.”
I am certain that in making decisions on personal protection weapons, the PSNI will have careful regard to the security issues relating to not just present members of the Prison Service but to former members. I am confident that we have a process that is rigorous in assessing those risks and I am sure that they are taken into account by the PSNI. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will also consider them in the appeals process.
May I remind the House that it is not just about police officers and prison officers? Sometimes people work more indirectly for the Prison Service or military; they might be a civilian driver, educate the children of people who work there or provide a service, such as cleaning an establishment. Those people are under threat, too, more often than we realise.
I am confident that the PSNI will carefully consider the risks associated with anyone who applies for permission to have a personal protection weapon, whether they carry out the roles described by my hon. Friend or are involved directly in the Prison Service or PSNI.
I apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber earlier. I do not need to talk further on the subject of weapons in this company, but I believe that many of my former RUC colleagues feel that it is only a matter of time before the PSNI is outgunned by one set of dissidents or another. Does the Secretary of State feel that she has access to enough military resources that can be quickly deployed in the Province?
The PSNI has been very clear that it has the resources it needs to combat the terrorist threat, which includes certain technical support from the military.
For our part, the Government are determined to everything we can to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure. On coming to power we endorsed an additional £50 million for the PSNI. In 2010, our national security strategy included countering Northern Ireland-related terrorism as a tier 1 priority and, as we have heard, an additional £200 million over four years was provided to the PSNI to tackle the threat from terrorism.
The right hon. Member for Belfast North asked what will happen at the end of the period covered by that funding settlement. Those are matters for the forthcoming spending review, but the Government will continue to do all we can to support the PSNI and its partners in their efforts to tackle the terrorist threat. I am sure the points made in the debate today will be carefully considered when decisions are made on future spending reviews.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) made a very specific point about the SPED scheme moneys being drawn out of the Department for Social Development’s money. The specific issue affects Northern Ireland, but the security of Northern Ireland is a matter not just for Northern Ireland but for the whole United Kingdom. Will the right hon. Lady consider providing extra funding for the DSD in Northern Ireland to cover the movement of people from house to house through the SPED scheme?
I am sure that when decisions are ultimately taken on the Northern Ireland block grant and future spending reviews, appropriate consideration will be given to the security situation in Northern Ireland.
Ministers and security advisers meet regularly to review our counter-terrorism strategy and to ensure that everything that can be done is being done. Although the threat level remains at “severe” in Northern Ireland, real progress has been made. Excellent co-operation between the PSNI and its partners has put the terrorists under strain in recent months. There have been significant arrests, charges and convictions. In fact, so far this year there have been a total of 143 arrests in Northern Ireland, in addition to a number by An Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland. There have also been 52 charges against those involved in national security attacks brought since January 2012, including a number for serious terrorism-related offences. In addition, 25 caches of weapons and improvised explosive devices have been seized.
We remain committed to supporting the PSNI, its partners and Justice Minister David Ford in countering the threat and preventing the so-called dissidents from causing death and destruction. I regularly meet the Tanaiste and the Irish Minister of Justice and discuss these matters, and I am in no doubt that the Irish Government and their police service remain fully committed to tackling terrorism. The relationship between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI is better than ever and it continues to save lives.
As for the question asked by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on the disclosures about commissioning, she will be aware that the body that carried out the decommissioning process was an independent one. It chose not to publish the inventory of its work, so the Government do not actually have the information to which she referred.
I was involved in the negotiations leading to the Belfast agreement, and in the legislative process here in Parliament. The Government have a statutory duty in relation to decommissioning. The legislation made provision for the publication of an inventory of the weapons that had been decommissioned at the end of the process, so I do not think the Secretary of State can simply evade the issue by saying that the commission was independent. The commission had legislative force from this Parliament and surely, therefore, there is an issue of accountability.
I am happy to look at the matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised and discuss it further with him.
We are resolutely determined to bring an end to the senseless violence that can still cause such pain and loss in Northern Ireland, but as I said earlier, security measures alone will not bring an end to terrorist activity, although of course they remain essential. We also need to build a more prosperous and less divided society if we are finally to force out those violent groupings completely. Northern Ireland still faces many serious economic and social challenges after the troubles. We need to continue efforts to rebalance the economy and revive the private sector, and we must tackle sectarianism and the causes of division in society, which can fuel the discontent on which terrorists will try to capitalise.
Addressing ongoing community segregation is not just a social and political priority; it is a security priority as well. That is one of the reasons why, in his speech to the Assembly last year, the Prime Minister emphasised the crucial importance of building a genuinely shared future for Northern Ireland. The UK Government remain committed to working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive in their efforts to deliver that shared society.
However, we must not forget how far Northern Ireland has come since the dark days of the troubles. As rightly highlighted by the right hon. Member for Belfast North, we have unprecedented political stability. For the most part, people go about their daily lives in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past; and in so many ways Northern Ireland is now projecting itself on the world stage for the right reasons.
This year we have seen Northern Ireland host the Irish golf open, the Olympic torch relay, the Titanic centenary events and, of course, the fantastically successful visit by Her Majesty the Queen. Next year will see the world police and fire games bring more than 20,000 competitors and spectators to Northern Ireland. Derry-Londonderry will be the UK city of culture. It will host the Fleadh which is being held in Northern Ireland for the first time. Also, as we have heard, it is now officially, according to “Lonely Planet”, the fourth best city in the world to visit.
As announced yesterday by the Prime Minister, the Government are recognising once again the transformation that has taken place in Northern Ireland by bringing the leaders of eight of the world’s largest economies to County Fermanagh. County Fermanagh will genuinely be the centre of the world in June next year. The G8 conference will showcase Northern Ireland as an inspirational setting for world leaders to discuss ambitious solutions to pressing global problems. As the First Minister said yesterday, that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. It demonstrates a modern, confident, forward-looking Northern Ireland.
This Government in no way underestimate the severity of the ongoing security threat. We remain vigilant. The House should be in no doubt that we will do everything we can to protect the people of our country from terrorism; and we will continue to support the PSNI, the Executive and the community in ensuring that the terrorists do not succeed in their aims. The people of Northern Ireland have achieved so much over the past 20 years and they are determined to continue the hard-won progress that has been made. The overwhelming majority stand by the principle that Northern Ireland’s future will only ever be determined by democracy and by consent, and not by violence. The Government will continue to be vigilant in combating the terrorist threat as an essential part of our wider efforts to deliver a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland, of which all its citizens can be proud and in which everyone has a genuinely shared future.
I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on bringing these important matters before the House today; I commend the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for the very measured way in which he introduced the debate, and I thank the Secretary of State for her remarks.
Northern Ireland’s security and stability affect and are the responsibility of every Member of Parliament, from every party and every part of the United Kingdom. Yesterday’s announcement that the G8 summit is coming to Northern Ireland next year is very welcome news for everyone in Northern Ireland. Fermanagh, which I know is close to the heart of the right hon. Member for Belfast North, is a beautiful county, which I have been privileged to visit. I was last in Enniskillen for the church service at St Macartin’s cathedral on the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland to mark the diamond jubilee. But of course we also remember the horrific Remembrance Sunday killings of 25 years ago. I have also spent time in Fermanagh visiting community groups and businesses, including the Fermanagh Trust which does such good work to promote shared education in the county.
The announcement that this hugely significant event, attended by eight world leaders, will be held in Northern Ireland is proof indeed that things have changed considerably for the better. Only a short number of years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an occasion of this significance, with all its security implications, could be held in Northern Ireland. Indeed the Prime Minister, at Prime Minister’s questions today, made that very point. Given that Derry-Londonderry is also to be the city of culture next year, I firmly believe, as the Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman said, that 2013 can be a great year of tourism, investment and togetherness for a vibrant and confident Northern Ireland taking its place on the world stage. A huge amount of progress has thus been made, as we and the Secretary of State recognise.
However, as the motion rightly identifies, there are still those who wish to destroy the peace and progress made and take us back to the dark days of conflict. The murder of Prison Officer David Black just a few weeks ago is a stark reminder of the need for us to be vigilant and realistic about the threat from terrorism. As I said in the House of Commons in the days afterwards, it was the cold-blooded, evil murder of an ordinary, decent man, going about his ordinary, decent business.
I, and some Members who are present in the Chamber this afternoon, stood with many other ordinary, decent people in Cookstown for David Black’s funeral—the Secretary of State was there as well—and was overwhelmed by the courage and determination of his family, and by what his very proud children said at his funeral. They showed that those who murdered a husband, a father and a friend did not succeed and will not succeed. It was good to hear from the Secretary of State this afternoon that there have been further arrests by the PSNI, and that the police have taken other action, including searching properties. That is very welcome news to all of us, I think, as we would all wish to see the perpetrators brought to justice as soon as possible.
We must not, however, think that sentiments alone will ensure that no other family is bereaved and no other home, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) rightly said that day, has an empty chair and a loved one gone. There can be no complacency about the threat from the small number of people engaged in violence, and there must be total support—financial and political—from both sides of the House to help the security forces in Northern Ireland to keep the people safe. Will the Minister in his closing remarks again assure the House that those protecting the public, particularly the PSNI, the Army technical officers and the security services, have all the resources needed to tackle terrorism and the threat to national security?
Unfortunately, David Black’s murder was not an isolated incident, as the Secretary of State said. It was part of a pattern of dissident republican terrorist activity across Northern Ireland, targeted primarily at the security forces. A gun attack on police took place in west Belfast at the end of July; two pipe bombs and a booby-trap device were left at the offices of Derry city council in September; mortar bombs were found in north Belfast in October; then, just last week, what is believed to have been an under-car bomb was found in Belfast, having fallen off the vehicle of the intended target. Loyalist paramilitaries are also engaged in creating discord within and between communities: their involvement in some of the public disorder seen in Belfast this summer and continuing sectarian attacks and criminal behaviour must also be condemned and challenged robustly.
In both working-class Unionist and working-class nationalist areas, joblessness among young people is a real concern, and the Secretary of State mentioned this. Not only does it damage our young people by denying them work, opportunity and aspiration, but it makes them vulnerable to exploitation and indeed recruitment by paramilitaries. We should never underestimate the impact on the security situation of unemployment and social and economic deprivation. Only rarely does any of this make the news here in London, but it is happening and we in Westminster have a duty to take note and to act to deal with it. That is why I so warmly welcome the topic the right hon. Member for Belfast North has brought to the House for debate today.
I believe, as do the Secretary of State and all Members of this House, that the PSNI is to be congratulated on its diligence and success in preventing attacks and catching the perpetrators. The Army technical officers in the bomb disposal units also deserve huge credit for their bravery and tenacity in dealing with suspect devices. Prosecutions relating to terrorist activity have continued, but the risk to police officers, prison officers, soldiers and the entire community remains very real.
Responding to remarks I made in the House earlier this month, the Secretary of State said:
“the PSNI is completely focused on maintaining the safety of prison officers, as it is on maintaining the safety of police officers, who are sadly also targeted by dissident terrorists. I am sure that every lesson will be learned, and that the PSNI and the Prison Service will look with care at whether any changes need to be made as a result of yesterday’s tragedy.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 513.]
I am following closely the comments being made by the shadow Secretary of State. Will he take a moment to support publicly the calls we have heard from this Bench this afternoon for the publication by the Government of the inventories of weapons already decommissioned by republicans and by loyalists, as agreed under the Belfast agreement? To hide behind the independence of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning simply will not do. Will the hon. Gentleman please publicly endorse those calls for publication?
Because of the way the hon. Lady has pursued the matter and raised it in this debate, she has already got a commitment from the Secretary of State to consider her request and to see whether anything more needs to be done. The hon. Lady had mentioned the publication of inventories several times this afternoon and the Secretary of State has—rightly, I believe—given a commitment to see whether anything further can be done to ensure that the weapons and other materiél that are said to have been destroyed actually have been. I am sure the House welcomes the Secretary of State’s commitment.
May I ask the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, what his assessment is of the lessons that have been learned and whether any changes are needed to ensure the highest levels of personal security for police officers, civilian police staff and Prison Service personnel? The Police Federation for Northern Ireland says that there have been 73 gun or bomb attacks since the start of this year—a startling and worrying figure—and last week its chairman, Terry Spence, said that 1,000 more officers were needed to combat what he described as a growing threat and to stop us “sleepwalking into disaster”. Following the previous Administration’s commitment, in 2010 this Government gave the police an extra £200 million, to be spread over the following four years, specifically to combat terrorism; and the Executive have provided £45 million for the same purpose. I know that, like me, the Minister of State has regular discussions with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable. What representations has he received regarding the extension of that funding beyond 2014? What is his assessment of the call for additional police officers to meet the national security threat outlined by the PFNI chairman?
I know that there is ever-closer co-operation between the Irish Government and the UK Government, and between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI. The support of the Irish authorities in tackling terrorism is hugely important, and I commend in particular the Tanaiste, the Irish Justice Minister and the Garda commissioner for their hard work and determination. We all want that to continue.
On the day of the terrible murder of Mr Black, I was in Dublin and met the Garda commissioner, who reaffirmed his commitment to working with the PSNI to stamp out such action. There was an air of despondency around everyone I met in Dublin that tragic day. They really do stand with us in fighting against such incidents.
The remarks of the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee are welcome and will be heard clearly both here and in Dublin. I am sure that everyone across the whole Republic of Ireland, the whole of Northern Ireland and, let us be clear, the whole United Kingdom, was absolutely horrified by the murder and supports all the efforts of the Government, the parties in Northern Ireland and the police and security services in the Republic and Northern Ireland to bring to justice those who committed that terrible crime.
In my first exchange across the Dispatch Box with the Secretary of State, during Northern Ireland questions on 24 October, I said that I wanted
“to work with her constructively and in a bipartisan way, particularly on issues relating to security.”
I asked her to
“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”.—[Official Report, 24 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 907.]
The Secretary of State has reaffirmed that commitment and needs to do so constantly, because, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North said, any suggestion of a downgrading must be combated. I reaffirm my commitment to maintaining a bipartisan approach, to working with the Government on security matters, and to supporting the Northern Ireland Executive, the Justice Minister and the PSNI. This afternoon’s debate gives us the opportunity, here in Westminster, to say that tackling terrorism, wherever and whenever it occurs, should remain the responsibility and priority of us all.
I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for securing this Opposition day debate. I know that many colleagues in parties on the other side of the Chamber have far more expertise and experience than I have and that they want to speak, so I will be brief.
I join the Secretary of State and the others who have spoken so far in paying tribute to Mr David Black. His murder was a heinous crime, which calls to mind the dreadful situation many years ago, of which I have some experience. One of my uncles was a police officer; the IRA attempted to assassinate him and once actually came to his house. Fortuitously, neither the children—my cousins—nor my uncle and aunt were harmed, but it was an absolutely desperate situation. I remember so well what it was like all those years ago. Things have moved on apace, almost miraculously. I still visit my relatives in Northern Ireland and it is a very different place from what it was many years ago.
The security issue, however, is clearly still relevant, as the crime against Mr Black only a few weeks ago demonstrates. Periodically, dissident groups materialise suddenly and cause mayhem by harming, frightening and intimidating people, and, to be frank, some of the loyalist dissident groups almost have a racketeering contract over parts of the north. Things are not yet quite where we want them to be, but I want to affirm and confirm just how far they have come.
I remember being in Belfast when the troubles started. I was only 12 and, as hon. Members will be able to imagine, as a young child I thought it was very exciting. There were helicopters everywhere, guns going off and lots of noise, but it did not take me long to realise just what a dreadfully black period the whole country was going to go through. The situation now compared with then is almost miraculous. It is tremendous that it has advanced to the extent that, today, all sides in Northern Ireland, where a difficult sectarian divide involved a lot of death and pain, are sought out by other countries around the world to help them get through similarly difficult situations. That is a tribute to all the people of the north and to the UK Government for the progress that we have made.
It is striking that a number of Northern Ireland Members have reminded us of the ongoing threat, to the extent that people have had to move house. I urge the Government to keep focused on two things, along with everything else. First, there must never be any cuts in the budget, so that ample money is available to ensure that people who work in the public security services—whether they work in prisons, the police or similar—are protected in their own homes in the north. Secondly, and equally—this strong point has already been made—if they are forced out of their own homes, which is dreadful, they should not suffer financially, because that seems completely against the whole concept of natural justice. As a spokesperson for my party within the coalition, I add my wholehearted support to what has already been said on that issue. It is important that the Government keep focused.
The security angle is complicated and I know that the Government are working very closely with the devolved Government in Northern Ireland. This issue clearly is not going to go away any time soon, but I remind hon. Members—not that I have to remind Northern Ireland Members—that we are in such a different place compared with 20 years ago. If we ever allow the dissident groups, of whatever stripe, to force us into a defensive posture, that tiny percentage of people will have won. I do not think that they are worth it—they are not worth a hill of beans. We need to deal with them firmly, ensure that the security capacity is there, and keep doing what I know the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want, which is to keep going forward towards a very secure future.
I rise in support of my honourable colleagues and this important motion. I want to tread the same fine line as previous contributors and outline the significant and beneficial progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent years, while balancing it with the need not to become complacent. Unfortunately, we have seen in recent days and weeks the ramifications of what happens whenever dissident terrorists are able to carry out their dastardly objectives.
The progress that has been made has been alluded to during Prime Minister’s questions today and in other locations recently. It is remarkable—there is absolutely no question about that. In 2012, there are many villages and towns in Northern Ireland where there is no discernible evidence of violence, dissension or trouble at all—none whatsoever. Unfortunately, however, as has been said, the capacity of dissident terrorists—who now come under the umbrella of the IRA—to carry out their activities cannot and must not be underestimated. The fact that those terrorists have carried out six or seven gun or bomb attacks each and every month of this year is evidence of their capacity.
The Chief Constable has said that the terrorists do not have the capacity for a sustained campaign. They are not in the same category as the Provisional IRA and it appears at present that they are not even intent on a sustained level of bombing and shooting on every day of every week of every month, for a number of reasons. They do not have the manpower—or the woman-power either—or the expertise, although they are gaining in that regard. What they are doing, however—unfortunately, Mr David Black and his family were at the receiving end of their capacity—is allowing a week, a fortnight or a month to go by and then hitting a target that they know will get a headline and generate adverse publicity. For example, they are aware that Londonderry will be the first ever UK city of culture next year, which is why they targeted the cultural offices in the city of Londonderry. They knew that that would get a headline of some magnitude.
In treading the fine line between the significant progress that has been made, which we must not underestimate, and the need to ensure that vigilance remains the watchword, I want to draw attention to the benefit that we will gain, I hope, over the next 12 months and, at the same time, ensure that the Secretary of State, the Government and the security forces at home remain vigilant to ensure that people are able to enjoy the many occasions that will come our way over the next 12 months.
Let us consider those occasions for a moment. The G8 has been announced and we congratulate the Prime Minister on, and thank him for, his work in delivering it. There will be an unprecedented arrival of people in, and attention on, Northern Ireland for all the good reasons. People will come to Fermanagh and there will be intense publicity not just for the three days that they are there, but for the weeks that lead up to it and, I hope, subsequent to their departure. That has to be and must be a force for good, and yet there is the potential—just as dissidents have targeted other occasions that were a force for good—for the dissidents’ force for evil. They will undoubtedly be looking at ways to undermine that significantly beneficial event for Northern Ireland, so we must be aware of their capacity to do so.
The Secretary of State has alluded to the world police and fire games, which will also be held in Northern Ireland next year. The potential significant benefits for tourism and inward investment as the result of many thousands of people—both participants and spectators—coming to Northern Ireland and enjoying their stay should not be underestimated. Again, dissidents will want to target that event. We cannot rest on our laurels and just think that the police will deal with any problems. Unfortunately, we must prepare for the possibility that dissidents may want to disrupt these events.
I have alluded to Londonderry being the first ever UK city of culture. There will be a whole sequence of events, starting in six weeks’ time and running throughout next year. Again, dissidents will see the opportunity to target those events. They will pick and choose the events that they want to disrupt. Thankfully, their attempts in recent months have failed, but trying and failing in the past has not deterred them from repetition. They will undoubtedly attempt to cause disruption again.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, Northern Ireland could see as much transformation again as it has seen over the past 20 years, provided that we take the necessary action to ensure that those who are intent on disrupting these events are not allowed to do so, and provided that the community rallies behind all the events, gives them total support and ensures that there is no hiding place for anyone who tries to disrupt them or attack the participants. Last year, when the Olympic torch made its way across the United Kingdom, the only location where it suffered a minor re-routeing was Londonderry. That was at the hands of several dozen dissident political protesters. There was no violence, but there were negative headlines because they targeted an event that everyone else thought was tremendous and that thousands of people were there to support. We must confront that kind of attitude over the next 14 months.
The shadow Secretary of State made an important point about unemployment, particularly among young people. Just like the Provisional IRA before them, the dissident elements are undoubtedly targeting young people who are unemployed and saying to them, “The peace process has brought you nothing. It has not benefited you with employment, in getting you out of the ghetto or in improving your lifestyle or standard of living. Therefore, join us in trying to finish the job that the provos started but could not finish.” That is the message that the dissidents sell, in different ways, to young people who are unemployed and who, in many cases, are following generations of unemployment.
I therefore encourage other Members to follow the avenue that I will be pursuing next week with Invest Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, the Prince’s Trust and others. We are targeting unemployed young people and giving them the information on the training, skills and adaptability that they need to get into employment, so that they do not become fodder for the dissident elements that are, unfortunately, targeting our young people.
I want to close with the issue of personal protection weapons and the home protection scheme, which has been alluded to by a number of Members. David Black was not under any specific individual threat on his life. He died as a result of the dissident terrorists targeting him none the less. The day, the week and the month before that fateful day when he was making his journey along the motorway, he did not believe that he was under threat any more than many of his colleagues. I say that not to diminish the threat that he thought he was under, but to point out that he was told that he was under no specific individual threat.
That means that there are hundreds of serving and former members of the police, the prison service, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment who, because of where they live and because of their job, feel themselves to be under a certain kind of threat. I encourage the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State and others to do whatever they can to ensure that those personnel have adequate protection, in the form of both personal protection weapons and the home protection scheme, so that they and their families have some form of security. They need to know that the Government and the rest of us understand the threat that they are under and will do what we can to help them in their hour of need.
It is good to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell).
The recent murder of Prison Officer David Black presents us with a stark warning that we cannot ignore. It shows that although society in Northern Ireland is moving forward, peace and stability are fragile commodities that need to be protected from dangerous people who go about with murder in their hearts. We cannot take our security for granted in any corner of this United Kingdom; nor can we assume that the threat of republican terrorism has passed completely into the history books.
Personal protection weapons and the assessment of risk have been raised a number of times today. I believe that there is an issue with how assessments are made that needs to be addressed by the security forces or through the Northern Ireland Office. I would like the Secretary of State to take that on board.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry referred to David Black. David Black was murdered in my constituency. I pay tribute to his family and to his wife for her courageous statement about no retaliation. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said, they also said that they wanted the perpetrators to be brought to justice to pay for their crime. As I said earlier, while we are genuine in our tributes to him and his family, there is an empty chair that will never be filled, so we must get to grips with the matter.
I believe that a different line must be taken in the assessments on serving officers in the Prison Service and the other security forces, and on those who have served the community and put on the uniform of the Crown forces for a long time. Time and again, prison officers and people from the security forces come to my office. The letters that they receive state continually: “Our assessment on you is moderate.” What does that mean? There was no specific intelligence on David Black. There was no specific intelligence on Constable Stephen Carroll, who was also murdered in my constituency. But their lives were taken.
We need to address this issue. The Government need to realise that we are dealing with human lives. We are dealing with people who have to go out in the morning to do a day’s work and who are looking over their shoulder. All of us on these Benches live with that every day. People will say that we are well paid for it, and perhaps we are. However, there are people out there who get up in the morning, leave their families and go out to check their vehicles. The word for the problem is complacency. We all get lax when nothing has happened for a while, and we do not check under our vehicles or look over our shoulders as we should. That happens, but some day it will be too late—there will be a device and it will all be over.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the targeting of security force personnel, whether in the police, Army or Prison Service. Is he also aware of the announcement that the name and address of every prison officer was known to dissident republicans, and does he feel that security for everyone who serves in uniform needs to be upgraded and stepped up?
Yes, and over the years we have been made aware of security leaks, and documents relating to members of the security forces have been found in the possession of certain people. People have been arrested because material has been found that could be of advantage to terrorist organisations. We must be vigilant and ensure consistent upgrading and assessment of all those issues, and I ask the Secretary of State to keep that in mind. I do not totally blame the Northern Ireland Office for the situation; the PSNI of course has responsibility for making an assessment. People should not just be dealt with as being under moderate threat, when all of a sudden their lives are taken. As has been said, David Black was driving down the motorway outside Lurgan in my constituency. He was on his way to help his country by serving in the Prison Service, and to earn a living for his wife and family. He did not return. We must address urgently the issue of how people’s protection is assessed.
On a more positive note, no one in this House, or anywhere in Northern Ireland, would deny that Northern Ireland has made remarkable progress in recent times. This has been a fantastic year for our Province, and the announcement yesterday that Ulster will host the G8 summit next year was the crowning glory in an incredible period of positive headlines. I thank the Secretary of State for attending my constituency yesterday—of course, she brought the Prime Minster with her—and it was good of her to be there to make an announcement about the G8. I am sure she will agree that the warm reception that both she and the Prime Minister received from the NACCO work force in the Craigavon area was tremendous. It was a positive day for my constituency, for Northern Ireland and for NACCO, which had its tweets all ready. They were not allowed to go because of security issues, but I assure the Secretary of State that the moment the Prime Minister left, wires were hot across the whole world to promote that company and the Craigavon area.
This year has been an excellent showcase for all that is good about Northern Ireland. No longer is our part of the United Kingdom referred to in the same breath as Palestine or other trouble spots in the world, and the Province is receiving global recognition for the right reasons. That success has been built on the sure foundation of support for the rule of law among all those who carry the responsibility of political leadership. People who once swore that they would never support the police or the rule of law, now do so.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about support for policing. Does he share my concern, and that of many others, about the recent developments following an arrest made under proper policing processes, when Sinn Fein organised a protest outside police headquarters and accused the PSNI of “political policing”? Does my hon. Friend believe, as I do, that that retrograde and dangerous step plays into the hands of dissidents?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention; he is absolutely correct. Such events send out the wrong message and seem to give support to dissident republicans which, as was mentioned earlier, encourages young people to believe that the war is not really over. In the words of one famous republican, “We haven’t gone away you know.” We must remember that.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that a dangerous precedent has been set by members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP on Dungannon and South Tyrone council? A person has gone through the due process of the law as a result of an action to murder a member of the DUP—Councillor Sammy Brush—yet now we find that their release is being demanded.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In fact, he must have seen my speech—[Interruption.] He probably thought he wrote it for me. He is right to say that the call from the SDLP is despicable, and I will soon refer to that case in my speech.
A generation of young people are emerging in Northern Ireland for whom the worst days of the troubles are something they hear their parents talk about at the fireside. Mercifully, these young people have no real first-hand experience of such things themselves. I welcome that changed dispensation and the fact that our society has become less accustomed to violence and less accepting of it than during the dark days. At stake, however, is the maintenance of peace and prosperity for all our people.
I pay tribute to Kate Carroll, the wife of Constable Stephen Carroll who was murdered in my constituency. She is a very brave lady and I understand that in January next year she will launch in the Stormont buildings an initiative for disfranchised young people. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry referred to young people who are unemployed and find themselves in difficult circumstances, and Kate Carroll is bringing forward an initiative that will help such people to find work, get involved in youth projects, and remove them from the scene and criminal activity, and from the leeches that try to tap into their lives and take them away. I pay tribute to Kate Carroll; she is a brave lady who has been outspoken on many issues and come a long way since the death of her husband. She should be congratulated on that.
There was a time in Northern Ireland when a person’s losing their life as a consequence of terrorism was sometimes read out on news broadcasts with the tiresome repetition of the weather forecast or the market report. Those terrible times are gone, except for a tiny, crazed element that seeks to take us backwards. That element does exist, and we learn from the past that if it is not confronted, it will persist. It is a sign of how far forward we have moved as a society that the community, right across the traditional divides, was genuinely convulsed in shock by the recent murder of David Black. People who lived through the dark days do not want to go back to them, and their children do not want to endure what their parents had to endure. We must not let our people down through a weak response to that grave threat. We must have peace, but it can only be guaranteed through strength.
Peace will be preserved in our country only if those who threaten its continuation are confronted and harried at every opportunity by the legitimate forces of law and order. My point again to the Secretary of State is that we need to provide any resources that are needed. We need to take those people on, defeat them and remove them from our society. We need to remove their political ideology—or whatever ideology—to try to bring them to their knees. Republicans tried for many years in Northern Ireland, but they found that the people of Ulster are very resilient, despite all that was thrown at them over the years. The people of Northern Ireland did not give in to the Provisional IRA, and I can assure the House that they will not give in to any so-called dissident republicans. They will continue to fight and continue to remain members of this United Kingdom no matter what is thrown at them.
The latest incarnation of republican terrorism considers itself to be the keeper of an old republican flame—the armed struggle. Those people believe that, if they can keep alive the twisted tradition of anti-democratic violence, it will eventually burn as strongly as it did in the past. The psychopathic delusion required to sustain such a nightmare vision ignores the pain and suffering that would be inflicted on the wider community were it ever to become a reality. It can never be allowed to become a reality. Too many people have suffered as a consequence of politically motivated violence. It is essential that the Government do all in their power to defeat those who would seek to reignite the flames of division and bloodshed. Every tool at our disposal should be deployed.
The news that the disparate and scattered remnants of physical-force republicanism have joined together under a single banner—one local tabloid referred to it yesterday as a coalition, but I will not go into that—shows why the current policy of allowing dissidents to segregate in prisons must be ended. It is beyond dispute that the warnings given in 2003 on where that policy would ultimately lead have been fulfilled. The policy should be reversed, and I hope the Secretary of State joins us in calling for that.
It is more important now than ever that all democratic parties in Northern Ireland stand together to oppose the dissident agenda. That is why I have found some of the actions of the SDLP very disappointing. I have a lot of respect for many SDLP members, but recent comments have been disappointing. It sends out a mixed and confused message if the leader of the SDLP and his party colleagues campaign for the release of Marian Price and Gerry McGeough. McGeough was convicted by a court of law for the attempted murder of my party colleague, Councillor Sammy Brush. Had Sammy Brush not been in possession of a personal weapon, he would have been dead today. He was able to return fire, but he would have been dead had the personal protection weapon not been issued to him.
It was appalling to hear the leader of the SDLP claim that McGeough has been victimised. It was equally appalling when his party backed a call for McGeough to be released. Let us imagine the scene at Dungannon and South Tyrone borough council on that night: Councillor Brush was sitting in his place in the council chamber while one nationalist speaker after another rose to demand the release of the man who had tried to murder him. Such behaviour is an affront to any innocent victim of terrorism. McGeough should not be released until he has served his full sentence. That is the end of the story.
Marian Price had her licence revoked by the previous Secretary of State for encouraging support for the very same terrorists who would seek to plunge Northern Ireland back into the violence and bloodshed of the past. At this juncture, there can be no question of setting her free. I hope the Secretary of State reiterates the Government’s support for the decision taken by her predecessor in that regard.
I hope the Secretary of State provides an assurance that any PSNI request for additional resources to tackle the threat posed by dissident republicans will be looked on favourably by the Government. When we are talking about protecting the safety and security of British citizens, there can be no question of penny pinching. Prison officers, who are currently the focus of attention, need protection. Whatever package is required—whether PPWs or home protection—needs to be provided.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that Ulster has lost too many young men and women, and men and women who have served their country for many years. We do not want to see any more.
Order. I should inform Members who wish to take part in the debate how it will run for the rest of the afternoon. Five Members wish to participate, and we are due to start the wind-ups at around 4 o’clock. I am not putting a time limit on speeches now, but asking each of you to consider the clock to ensure that the time is allocated fairly between you. Otherwise, I will do it for you.
I suppose there was a certain nervousness about this debate. It has been a measured debate, but as many hon. Members have said, we do not wish to paint a picture of Northern Ireland as being back in the 1970s and 1980s. Considerable progress has been made. I was glad that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) introduced the debate, he gave a balanced picture of a Northern Ireland that has moved on considerably. The Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and all hon. Members who have spoken, have echoed that.
The one thing that would give great consolation to those who murdered Prison Officer Black would be that their vile act is used to try to destabilise Northern Ireland further—economically, politically and in all other ways. That has not happened. The family have acted with dignity, and the community and security forces have been responsive, which is important. For Northern Ireland to succeed, and for us to move in the direction we want—to a normal and prosperous society that gives hope to young people who are looking for jobs, and families who want to bring up their children in a stable environment—we cannot allow the cancer of terrorism once again to push Northern Ireland into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
This year, we have had more tourists than ever, and we have succeeded even in the middle of a recession in attracting more foreign direct investment to our economy than any other region bar the south-east of England. Despite that and all the other changes, some people would love to wallow and say, “Things are just as bad as what they ever were.” I do not want this debate to give credence to such a view of life: that is not where Northern Ireland is today. We have already referred to the events that have happened this year and the events we are looking forward to next year. Even in Londonderry, with its republican and nationalist majority on the council, they are going to celebrate the UK city of culture next year. That is how Northern Ireland has changed. We may even have the Deputy First Minister going to the Brit awards—
I have not heard that phrase for a while.
As hon. Members have pointed out, despite those changes it is important that we do not get complacent and that we recognise that dangers still lurk that affect people’s daily lives in Northern Ireland. We have to deal with those dangers, and I accept that we as the public representatives in Northern Ireland have a responsibility to deal with them ourselves. I am glad that we are moving away from the days when we went and asked everyone else to help us with our problems and relied on them to sort out our problems for us. We have a devolved Administration, which includes parties across the board, although it is a difficult arrangement to make work, especially when dealing with people as financially irresponsible as Sinn Fein and, marginally behind them, the SDLP. People talk of their support for the police, but if the police start to deal with some of the colleagues of those who were involved in terrorism, that support suddenly becomes qualified. It is disgraceful—
In any democratic society, there is always the opportunity for people to engage in peaceful protest, if that is what the hon. Lady means. There is a huge difference between those who say that members of the public can engage in peaceful protest and those who say that it is political policing for the police to go through due process to arrest people for serious crimes—including murder. I notice that the SDLP Members have been quiet on this point. It is one thing for someone on Dungannon council in the back of beyond to call for the release of someone who was guilty of trying to murder a council colleague: it is another to stand up in the House of Commons and defend that. I note that SDLP Members have not tried to do that, because there is a bit more public scrutiny here.
It is important that we in Northern Ireland take responsibility not only for seeking to try to heal the divisions of the past, but for giving support to those who have to deal with the reality of the lingering terrorism that we still experience. I do not buy the idea—to which the shadow Secretary of State referred—that people get involved in terrorism because they are economically deprived. We do an injustice to people who have lived their lives in difficult economic conditions and never become involved in crime if we make that excuse. We have a responsibility to provide hope in our society, so that people can have a stake in it, feel that there is something better for them and that it is a place where they want to belong. The Executive are seeking to do that and to direct resources towards the young and unemployed, and people who have lost their jobs. We are looking at innovative ways to try to give that economic hope to people.
There is a need for security policies that will be effective, and responsibility for those may, at some stage, lie with the Government here in Westminster. If we are going to deal with terrorism, we must have intelligence. There are various ways of gathering intelligence—electronic surveillance and so on—but human intelligence sources are also important. The security services are responsible for gathering that intelligence in Northern Ireland. I know that they are hampered in doing so, and I remember my time in the police force and some of the unrealistic demands that were made, especially by some of the SDLP representatives—Sinn Fein was not on the Police Board then. People almost had to be Sunday school teachers to become informants for the police because there were so many restrictions. If people were involved in this, that or the other, they could not be recruited as intelligence sources. We would have been left with people who would not have had any idea about what was going on in the criminal underworld of terrorism if we had stuck by those restrictions. The important question is what changes we need to make to get the intelligence required to ensure that those who want to engage in such criminal behaviour are quickly identified.
There is also a resource aspect to this. I know that the Police Federation has talked about 1,000 extra police officers. I do not know whether we need 1,000 extra police officers or not, but I do know that if we are to target terrorists—including intensive surveillance on them—it will require additional resources. I give credit to the Government because when policing and justice were devolved, we were given additional resources for policing of £50 million on a yearly basis, depending on the assessment of the security situation. The Chief Constable and the Northern Ireland Executive made the case that they had to plan ahead and could not be left to wonder whether they would get the £50 million every year—whether the security situation would be assessed as okay or as having deteriorated. They asked for the money to be guaranteed for a four-year period, so that planning could take place to make best use of the resources. I pay tribute to the Government and the Treasury for accepting that argument, and that is why the Chief Constable has been able to plan ahead.
Additional resources may be required in the future. If so, it will be to deal with a national security situation, and not just to have more community policemen on the ground in Northern Ireland. I understand why Members on both sides of the House, when they see cuts in their police service, ask why Northern Ireland is treated differently from other parts of the United Kingdom when it comes to constraints on police budgets. But this issue does not apply only to Northern Ireland. If the situation gets out of hand, it will have national security implications. Republicans would far rather do something on the UK mainland than in Northern Ireland—that would be much more newsworthy. They get the base, they get the wherewithal, they get the ability and they get the mechanisms for doing it, and we can be sure that this is where the targets will be.
If the Chief Constable makes the assessment that additional resources are needed, I hope there will be a positive response. That is not to say that we in the Northern Ireland Executive must not do anything. Indeed, we have provided for greater flexibility in the security budget than for any other budget. In any other Department, where money is not, or cannot, be spent in the way it was voted on, it has to be returned to the centre and looked at again. The security budget has been ring-fenced so that the Chief Constable has much greater flexibility. This is not an issue of holding out our hands and looking for more money; this is about what we can do for ourselves first of all. However, if the situation deteriorates—I hope that it does not, and that there is never a need to call on the House and the Government for more resources for policing in Northern Ireland; I, and the citizens of Northern Ireland, want to see policing return to normality—then that is one thing that could be done.
I appreciate the response—the support and recognition—from all parts of the House to the situation in Northern Ireland. For our part, we raised this issue because it is important to the people who live in Northern Ireland for it to be highlighted. We have done so in a measured way; not in an alarmist way, but in a way that, as public representatives in Northern Ireland, we have a duty to do.
I welcome the motion despite the barbed and direct attacks on me, my leader and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell), and my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). It was absolutely scandalous, because our record on violence and our record against terrorism, all down the years, has been straight and to the point: we reject it all.
It is of paramount importance at this time, when there is undoubtedly a growing threat from dissident republicans, that we show solidarity with those who do most to make our communities safe. That includes, obviously, the PSNI and the Prison Service. The murder of Prison Officer David Black was an abhorrent crime against a man who was doing an important and difficult job on behalf of us all. It was also a vicious crime against the family and friends of Mr Black. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them.
If I am to be frank, apart from relative stability, there are not that many successes that our somewhat dysfunctional devolved Government in Northern Ireland can claim. Hopefully, that will change. None the less, the outstanding achievement of this spell of devolution is that we have all taken a united stand against terror from whatever source. For some of us, that is nothing new. My own party has always stood against politically motivated violence whatever the goal, whatever the frustration at the lack of movement, or whatever the anger about the lack of justice. For us, the recent violence is little different, except thankfully in its magnitude, from the violence we all endured in past decades. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.
We were very concerned that the prisons issue does not feed the dissidents, as happened with the provisional movement in the past.
If I may continue: my party has stood against violence. Violence was wrong back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and it is wrong now—simple, clear. Others have come a longer way—whether those who have renounced the armed struggle and have followed the electoral road to places such as this, or those, including the Democratic Unionist party who moved this motion, who fanned the flames of division for many years, including sporadic flirtations with paramilitarism and lawlessness. We are now all in the same place. We stand united against terror and we will not be moved. It is vital that we continue, whatever else may divide us, that united stand against terror. There must be no slippage on anyone’s part.
I recognise the distance travelled by others and acknowledge that we are united against terror. That unity is genuine and, I believe, resilient. However, I must also caution the DUP and Sinn Fein on how we maintain our united stand and how we deepen our commitment. To Sinn Fein I say the following: they perhaps have travelled furthest of all and deserve credit for that, but they can and should do more. First, they should stop describing a murderous atrocity as achieving nothing, or pointless, or condemning the perpetrators as having no strategy. Such acts are not just wrong strategically and tactically—they are just plain wrong. They are morally wrong. It would help if they could just say so.
Secondly, republicans must do more to provide every shred of information they have, whether recent or from the recesses of their memories, to the police—not selectively, but completely. I believe that it was a major step backwards to see Sinn Fein leaders recently protesting outside police headquarters against the arrest of a republican in the investigation into the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast. One either supports the police or not, and the dogs on the street know that republicans have yet to come clean on the brutal murder of Robert McCartney and the subsequent despicable persecution by republicans of his family.
It is not just Sinn Fein who need to do more to strengthen our united stand against terror. The party behind the motion can sometimes be uncomfortably close to some of the hard men on the other side. I understand that the DUP leader only recently complained to the Irish Government that funding going into worthwhile north/south infrastructure projects should instead go to community projects for loyalists, because loyalist paramilitaries were getting restless and were increasingly of a disposition to strike out. That is not good enough. Our united stand against terror must include all those who espouse terror and violence, not only the republican dissidents in this motion but the intimidatory thugs who continue to prey on working class communities on all sides. I would hope that the DUP pay heed to that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think there is evidence to that effect and he should discuss it directly with his colleagues who serve in the Northern Ireland Executive. [Interruption.] Yes, there is evidence to that effect.
We must not allow the tragic murder of Mr David Black to curtail our appetite for reform in the north. Our hard-working Justice Minister has plans to reform the Prison Service, just as we have reformed policing, and we must let him get on with it.
If there is one thing politicians can do to honour the memory of David Black and everyone else killed over the last several years—the police officers and other members of the security forces tragically murdered three or four years ago, and the other brave citizens cut down while providing essential public services—it is to strengthen and deepen our big achievement in devolution, which is our united stand against terror. That is what we should all subscribe to and what we in the SDLP—my party leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and I—have done continually.
I thank DUP Members for bringing this motion to the House, although, like others, I am saddened that it is so pertinent as so many positive things have happened in Northern Ireland in recent years. We have seen a remarkable transformation. The city I grew up in is unrecognisable compared with how it was during the worst of the troubles. We should be hugely grateful for that. It is an achievement of which we should all be hugely proud, having made it happen.
This is a pertinent motion, however, because the security threat in Northern Ireland is very real. It was visited most recently on the family of David Black, with his brutal murder. I want to offer again my condolences to his family—to his wife, his son and daughter, his parents and his sister, and the wider family—and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Prison Service. It was an appalling murder committed in cold blood, and those who did it not only ruthlessly took a life but recklessly endangered others on the motorway that morning. That demonstrates their utter disregard and contempt for the entire community more effectively than any words of mine in this place could ever do.
The murder was particularly ironic, given that David Black was an officer with a strong reputation within the prison service for supporting improved prisoner welfare. The motives of his murderers contrast sharply with those prisoners in Maghaberry who found a way to mark their respect for him as an officer in that facility, seeking a book of condolences that they could sign. That is a poignant tribute to the quality of service he gave to those placed in his care in the Prison Service.
It is important also to commend the police for their ongoing efforts to counter terrorist threats from all sources. As others have mentioned, we know that two people have been arrested for questioning today in relation to the murder. I welcome that, because it describes an active and ongoing police investigation. I wish them every success in bringing those responsible to justice. In doing so, they are not just delivering justice for the family but delivering justice and protection for the wider community. It is hugely important that the community co-operate fully with the police in all their efforts. I also commend the close and effective co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda. I know that my party leader, the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, is hugely impressed and encouraged by the ongoing work in that regard.
I also commend the speedy response of the Prison Service and the police service in dealing with the concerns about the personal security of prison officers that have arisen as a result of the most recent attack. As others have said, there were concerns about the speed of clearance of applications for personal protection weapons by officers leaving the service under the early redundancy scheme. I understand that they have been at least partially addressed by way of a commitment from the Chief Constable to fast-track those applications. There were also concerns about the duration of the maintenance support for home security measures for prison officers, but I believe that they have been resolved by an amendment to the scheme by the Prison Service. Clearly, other action is being taken to address the outstanding issues.
This was not only an attack on an individual or the security services; it was an attack on the whole community, and as such it requires a security, a political and a community response. These attacks are designed to dissuade people from joining the security services, to disrupt the political system, to drive a wedge between parts of the community and to reignite and exploit sectarian tensions. It is hugely important, therefore, that we work together and present a united front against people engaged in such activities to ensure that they do not achieve any of those objectives. The community needs to pull together and co-operate with the PSNI in bringing those responsible to justice.
As we are repeatedly reminded in statements by political leaders, these dissident groups are small, but there is no direct correlation between their effectiveness and destructiveness and their size. They are forensically aware and therefore able continually to avoid detection. It is hugely important that we do not underestimate the impact that these individuals can have in our community. They have been denounced by Father Michael Canny, who sought to engage with dissident republicans and bring about a ceasefire and the disbandment of those groups. He denounced them as “mindless morons” with nothing positive to offer our community. We would all concur with his assessment, but a mindless moron with a weapon or bomb is a dangerous individual. We should never lose sight of that. These groups might lack a vision for the future, but they are a threat to the present and the future, and we need to take them seriously. They are more wedded to their struggle than to any cause, which makes it particularly difficult for political intervention to succeed.
On the security response, I want to reflect on the need for Westminster to co-operate with the Northern Ireland Executive. Like others, I welcome the additional funding made available by the Treasury for the current comprehensive spending review period, and I recognise the importance of countering the threat during this period and the level of commitment to ensuring it continues into the next period. Northern Irish Members, like Government Members, have mentioned the huge opportunities in the coming years in Northern Ireland. Huge international events are due to happen, and we are hugely thankful that those things can take place in Northern Ireland and will shine a light on the positive things happening in our community. That is something we should welcome.
We have to recognise, however, that those events will place additional pressures on the PSNI when it comes to policing them, be they the UK city of culture, the world police and fire games or the G8 summit. All those are, in effect, UK-wide events being hosted in Northern Ireland, and a single police force should not be expected to carry all the financial burden. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland recently raised with me its concerns that although mutual aid is available to the PSNI through the UK-wide scheme, it can often be difficult to access. For example, many other forces are not routinely armed or trained in the specific skills needed to engage in civil disobedience situations, as is the case in Northern Ireland. We need to consider that point when we look to police resources and what is available to them.
I am happy to support the motion, but I note an omission, which is why I am grateful for the remarks made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and, in response, the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and others about loyalist paramilitaries. They are also active in our community; they are a destructive force, and the damage they can do should not be underestimated. Their activities are no longer monitored as publicly as they used to be when the Independent Monitoring Commission was involved. Often, these activities are dismissed, even when we raise them with the Northern Ireland Office, as merely criminality, but it is criminality with a political purpose, and we should never lose sight of that. We should be wary of not monitoring it as effectively and publicly as we have done in the past. Allegations of such groups recruiting young people are rife, and there is evidence of their being involved in civil unrest on the streets of our city and our towns over the last few months, as others have said.
I concur entirely. In some areas where loyalism has a particular grip on the community, racketeering and profiteering from local businesses have often led to the destruction of small businesses and severely damaged economic opportunities for those living in the immediate area.
I see the hon. Gentleman—who was previously a councillor in my constituency—concurring. We are talking about something recognisable in many of the communities that both of us have served. It is therefore hugely important that we take seriously the call by the Police Federation for Northern Ireland to consider re-specifying organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and also proscribing some of the newer republican organisations, in order to aid the police and security services in making progress against such organisations.
I was born at the end of 1971; 1972 was the worst year of the troubles. I lived my whole life as a child against the backdrop of violence in the city I grew up in. I look at Belfast now and it is not the city that I grew up in. It is a better, more vibrant, more open and more welcoming place. I am hugely proud to have lived in that city; however, I would not wish my experiences of growing up there as a child to be visited on another generation. When the Good Friday agreement and the subsequent political agreements were made, I believed that we were moving towards the end of such experiences. I do not want young people in my community to have the same memories—of death and destruction, of fear and terror—as I and my contemporaries grew up experiencing. It is not a normal way to live, and it should not be visited on today’s young people. Therefore, as elected representatives, together with the security services and the community, we must present a united front so that those intent on continuing down this destructive path are prevented at every turn.
Security is part of the answer, but it is not the whole answer. Our security response in the current context needs to be effective, but also consistent with the kind of Northern Ireland we want for the future. We need politics to work. It needs to be a real alternative. It needs to be resilient in the face of attack and united in its condemnation of any breach of the rule of the law, and without equivocation. We need to redouble our efforts to build a shared society and tackle sectarianism, which remains a breeding ground for the kind of hatred that in turn breeds paramilitarism. We need maturity and generosity in dealing with the difficult issues that still face us as a community, as part of the legacy of the troubles. We need to find ways of doing that which do not bring people on to the streets, placing them in conflict with our security services and creating opportunities for those who wish to take the extra step from peaceful protest to violent conflict by providing them with a platform to do so.
Does the hon. Lady agree that a fundamental part of preventing those issues from recurring is rebalancing the economy and creating a much more vibrant economy in Northern Ireland?
I agree that the economy is part of the solution, but would not argue that it is the cause of the problem. Although we have to recognise that those from economically deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to fall prey to paramilitary organisations, it would be unjust to those of us who grew up in such communities, as I did, to suggest that that is a natural choice that people make. People still have responsibility for their actions and for abiding by the rule of law, so the economy cannot excuse, although it might inform, our response. We need to be conscious of that.
The peace that we have in Northern Ireland is exceptionally precious, and none of us should ever treat it lightly. It remains fragile, so I support the motion and the Government’s efforts with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to prosper, as it has over recent years, and that those who are hellbent on its destruction are frustrated at every turn.
Throughout this debate we have heard perspectives—perspectives of the troubles and an attempt to put the current situation in Northern Ireland into a new perspective—and it has been very valuable. We heard a thoughtful contribution from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), whose constituency bears the scar of Irish terror. As each Member walks into this Chamber, under the scarred and broken ramparts of the Churchill arch, and as we see above us the memorials to Robert Bradford, Airey Neave and Ian Gow, we are all reminded of just how far we have come. It is a miracle; there is absolutely no doubt about it.
The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) mentioned her pride at having grown up as a Belfast woman and a citizen of Northern Ireland, understanding where she has come from and where her city has come from. All of us on these Benches whose formative years were spent in those times remember an average body bag count of 80 or 90 souls sent into eternity by the assassin’s bullet. That was our daily news intake as we grew up. Only now, in normal times—and thank God they are normal times—do we realise how perverse and awful it was and what a harrowing vista it is to look back on. As a father, probably the happiest occasion for me was when my daughter was 14 or 15 and said to me one day, when she had started her GCSE course, “Daddy, what are the troubles?” As a person who grew up in Northern Ireland and knew when I was 14 or 15 how bloody the troubles were, that was a great question to be asked as a parent—a powerful question, and something that should spur us on, as fathers and grandfathers in this House, to hope that our children and our children’s children never go through or witness that awfulness again, as the hon. Lady said. It is important that we have that perspective, because the security needs of the country we live in are now very different, but they are still incredibly real. We should face these things head-on.
In the current spending round the police have been given sufficient resources. We campaigned for that before the devolution of policing and justice powers—we made it a red line and we achieved that. That was job done, because it was essential to put our security services on a fair and good footing, so they could take us forward, hand in hand with economic progress, political stability and, of course, security gold-plating. We needed all that, but the current Chief Constable and his senior team now have to put forward their bid for the new spending round, and that involves a leap of faith. Their calculations are not being made using clear, understood figures from the Secretary of State, the Northern Ireland Office and the Government of Northern Ireland. They are being made with a leap of faith. The police need to retain the same level of spending that they got in the last spending round; otherwise, they will be under severe pressure.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has called for an increase in police numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and I served on the Policing Board for about seven years—I think that we were among the longest-serving members—and we constantly heard that call. We saw the numbers in the police service drop from 12,000 to 7,000. It now has about 6,800 members. The fact is that, this week, the police are going to have to start recruiting about 300 more police officers. They have not asked permission to do so yet; they are taking a leap of faith. Because of the new training mechanisms and the long gestation period between starting as a probationer and becoming an active, serving officer on the street, they need to push that button now, but they are taking a leap of faith because the money to recruit an additional 300 officers simply is not there.
The Chief Constable and his team are going to go to the Policing Board and ask for that money, and I believe that we in this House, across the parties, and the Secretary of State should encourage them. We should tell them not only that they can ask for it but that they will have the resource to get the number of full-time police officers back up to 7,150. Why do we need those extra officers? Why do we need that money? We need them in order to sustain our security capability in a practical way. An example is the air support unit that the police service runs. It requires a huge amount of resource to keep it going. The air patrols allow the police to watch people as they travel along certain roads. The main road from Dublin, from the border at Newry through to Belfast, is a smugglers paradise. Many millions of pounds-worth of contraband cigarettes and smuggled fuel go up and down that road every day. There is a multi-million pound enterprise run by gangsters and criminals, and the police need air support as well as ground support if they are to stop it. There are other measures that can be taken, and I shall come to those later.
The police also need money for close protection work. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said, they need money for surveillance operations. One of the things that galls many Members is that, although we know that certain individuals in Northern Ireland are responsible for particular crimes, the police have been unable to get sufficient evidence to secure successful prosecutions. Those people are loose on our streets. A great deal of effort is going into providing proper surveillance of a certain person on the streets of the mainland at the moment. Every effort is being made to ensure that he is being properly tagged and that, at the first opportunity, he will be kicked out of this nation.
We need the same surveillance equipment to be made available for certain people operating in Northern Ireland. One particular individual there is responsible for five murders. He was brought to trial for three of them, but got off on a technicality. That is the way the law works, and we all accept the rule of law, but it galls us that the police in Northern Ireland do not appear to have sufficient resources to watch that man day and night, so that the next time he tries to plan what was planned on the Lurgan bypass, he can be prevented from doing it. I hope that the police get the money and the surveillance equipment they need to undermine individuals such as those.
Any diminution of the police’s ability to do their work has a morale-eating impact not only on police officers but on the entire civilian population of Northern Ireland. The police have to balance their books this year, but they can do that only if they know that they are not taking a leap of faith and hoping to get resources next year and in the next Government spending round. They need adequate resources to do their job.
I mentioned in an earlier intervention that the level of churn in the police force had increased. More police officers than ever before are now resigning after only a short policing career. The level does not yet represent a spike on the charts, but it is starting to illustrate the existence of a problem. Police officers used to identify their work as a calling, and they would spend 30 years or more serving their community in that way. The new regime encourages police officers to see it as a short career, and many now go on to work in business or management or some other profession. That has an impact on the police force’s ability to hold on to recruits and to do the job. If that becomes a problem in the future, we will need the resource to address it.
The police certainly will need resources to police the G8 summit; they will need them to police the world police and fire games; and, as we approach 2016, they will certainly need them to police any public disturbance or anything that arises as a result of those who will try to turn their memories into the commemoration of the Somme or, in the south of Ireland, those who will try to turn their memories into the commemoration of the Easter rising. Those things will present policing challenges, so we must ensure that the police have adequate resources to address them.
Each year, we spend £37 million of policing money on policing the past. We have to do that because in order to get justice for what happened in the past, we have to gather evidence, pursue those cases and hopefully bring people to trial—but that is a huge draining resource that does not affect policing in any other part of the United Kingdom. Next year, we will spend £6 million on the Historical Enquiries Team; we will spend £6 million this year on inquests; and we will spend £25 million on legacy investigations—current detectives involved in policing the past. That has to be done, as I say, but it is at a cost. I want policing for the present and the future, but I know we have to continue with the project of getting through these cases and ensuring that we bring justice to people who rightly have questions that need to be answered.
We have to recognise, however, that if that huge demand is there, the police cannot step forward on a leap of faith when it comes to their budgets for next year and the next Government spending round. They have to know now that they will be adequately resourced to police the issues I mentioned, to furnish the HET, inquests and legacy investigations and to get on with tackling sex trafficking and other serious and organised crime in Northern Ireland.
One of the biggest crimes that goes on in Northern Ireland is fuel laundering. I am glad that our Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee is studying the problem. This is a multi-million pound crime. As I said, there is a highway—the A1 between Newry and Belfast—that is a smugglers paradise, and fuel is smuggled there every day. We need more resource put in to prevent that from taking place. We need resource put in to find a proper fuel marker to diminish the current nonsense of officers from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs pouring orange dye into fuel and then saying, “There—the problem’s solved”. It is not solved. I do not care about the colour poured in; whether orange or green dye is used, it does not solve the problem because all that happens is that it is laundered out of the fuel. The more dye poured in, the more kitty litter needs to be stolen to launder it through the process. That just perpetuates this cycle of crime. We need a new fuel marker in our fuel as soon as possible to stop the crime and put those gangsters out of business.
Just this week, gangsters in Belfast had a huge petrol station dug up. It was owned by a man in South Armagh, but it was dug up and the tanks were removed. Will the gangster be charged? No. Will he go to jail? No. How much has he stolen from the Secretary of State’s Government? Tens and tens of millions of pounds in this year alone—and he is getting away with it. We need that matter to be addressed—urgently.
Does the hon. Gentleman and fellow member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee agree that we also need some more convictions? People who behave this way are stealing money out of the Treasury’s pockets; we need to make sure that they get sent to prison for it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the figures are startling. This year, because of smugglers, the Treasury will lose £3 billion in unpaid revenue on cigarettes—about a third of the entire Northern Ireland budget. That is an incredible loss to the Exchequer. How many people will go to jail for that? Zero—a big fat zero. Why? Because these people are not prosecuted. The latest thing we hear is “Well, we will do our best to get more of these people behind bars.” If surveillance cannot be done, if these people cannot be trapped and if proper markers cannot be put in the fuel, we will never have sufficient evidence to convict them. I believe that in the past 11 years, during which the Government have lost billions of pounds in unpaid revenue because of fuel and cigarette smuggling, the authorities have prosecuted fewer than seven people and none has gone to jail. That is in an indictment of those at the top in the HMRC: they should be taking this on, and taking it on with a vengeance.
That is an interesting point. I understand that the current customs special investigation team consists of five people—five people dealing with the multi-billion- pound crime that is taking place in Northern Ireland. Those five people are brilliant, and they experience threats to their lives because of the work that they do and the people whom they approach; but their work is being hampered because the Government have decided that it is important to focus on VAT fraud—on an office desk job that involves going through VAT forms and deciding whether there has been any fraud. That is a disgrace, and we need to get on with ensuring that those staff are properly resourced.
We study history to learn the lessons, not to repeat the mistakes. It is clear that many mistakes have been made down the years, but Northern Ireland has turned a page, and there is a new chapter that Members of Parliament are helping to write. We are seeing a new beginning, a bright dawn, and it is a much better, brighter society in which we are living. However, there are still hurdles for us to jump, and we can jump them only if our security services are properly resourced and we set out in a spirit of real togetherness to make the changes that are necessary.
I support the motion. Let me begin by discussing its opening sentiments, which concern the murder of David Black.
David Black’s murder was rightly, strongly, thoroughly and comprehensively condemned across the democratic political spectrum, which counts for an awful lot and, I hope, means something to his family and colleagues. That may distinguish it from some of the previous murders of prison officers and others. However, I want to make it clear that while we welcome that united, strong condemnation, we believe that every other murder committed by every other paramilitary group was equally deserving of that thorough, comprehensive condemnation. David Black was entitled to his life and his living; so were all the other prison officers who were murdered by various paramilitaries. His family were entitled to his living love; so was every other victim in Northern Ireland.
It is not the case that there was a phase during which there were legitimate targets and we are now experiencing a phase during which there are no legitimate targets. We all need to be clear about that, because there is a danger that gross revisionism, on all sides and in all directions, will eventually plant in the heads of a new generation the false notion that the troubles were merely a necessary and unavoidable prelude to the peace process that we now have. They were not. We must bear in mind the violent campaign of the IRA and the violence of loyalist paramilitaries, and the fact that loyalist paramilitaries were indulged for years without even being proscribed. Unionist politicians justified the existence of the Ulster Defence Association by saying that it was a legal organisation, and Ministers in this House—in both parties—justified not proscribing it as though there were some acceptable level or form of terrorism or paramilitarism, which there never has been. I reject any suggestion, whether it comes from Martin McGuinness or any other member of Sinn Fein or from anyone else, that there was ever any way of treating paramilitarism in any of its forms.
Of course David Black’s family have been promised what the families of many other victims have been promised in the past: that no stone will be left unturned to bring the killers to justice. I join other Members in stating that I hope that is true, but the work of the Historical Enquiries Team and other organisations has revealed that it was often in the past not true when victims were told no stone would be left unturned, because it has been found that information held by the intelligence services was not passed on to the police, or that when information was passed on, the use to which it could be put was heavily circumscribed.
There were victims whose murders could have been prevented. There could have been intervention, apprehension and prosecution, but that did not happen because an intelligence long-game was being played, which allowed violence to happen. There was collusion and complicity, and that was not confined to the indulging of loyalist paramilitaries in attacks on Catholics; it extended to republican attacks on police or prison officers and on civilian targets. Such attacks were allowed because it was believed that an intelligence asset was being protected and must not be compromised. That should not happen.
People need to know that if anything has changed as a result of the peace process it is that there will be no interference or inhibition in the full and proper conduct of police inquiries and of prosecutions of anybody against whom there is relevant evidence. No consideration of protection of intelligence assets must be allowed to interfere in that. All victims need to have that assurance nowadays, and they need it all the more because there is evidence that in the past victims were sold short.
Even the victims of the Omagh bombing feel that way. I know how sick they feel when they hear it being said that no stone will be left unturned, because they were assured of that as well. They believe calculations were made and mistakes were allowed to happen in the Omagh investigation. As we completely reject the murder of David Black and the agenda of those behind it, we must also be clear that we are in no way trying to sanitise any of the past violence and excesses of any group.
As has been said, the murder of David Black comes at a time when there are many things we should be positive about and be trying to build on. We are now learning to move beyond lobbying our special case—which we are very good at, and have had to be very good at—and are getting much better at selling our special place. We will be able to do that through the opportunities we will have at the G8 summit next year, and we saw it with the MTV awards and the Titanic festival in Belfast. We will see it again at the world police and fire games, and when Derry becomes the UK’s city of culture next year. That will be a fantastic year-long celebration which will offer great opportunities for the city, particularly as it will be happening in the same year that the island of Ireland will have “The Gathering” as a way of bringing back the diaspora to the island of Ireland. That will enable us to sell in a new way, and it will be hugely important and positive. We want to build on all those positive sells.
Of course, there are dissident groups and tendencies who know that all such events and sells present an easy target for them. They could get very easy coverage from leaving a bomb outside the city of culture offices in Derry, for instance, or from planting devices here and there. However, we should not be thwarted, intimidated, deflated or deflected in any way by the fact of knowing that they are going to try to do that. They might be able to come up with viable devices that they can plant, but they have not been able to come up with any viable rationale for what they are doing, because they are just stuck in a groove, carrying out the old provo tactics through the old provo methods. That is the only agenda they have.
As far as I am concerned, if these dissidents have any rationale, let them bring it forward—let them take it to us. I will meet them; I have met them before, and I will meet them again, in my constituency or elsewhere. Any argument or case they want to put can be met by democrats, and it needs to be met by democratic nationalism and republicanism. There is an agenda for democratic nationalism and republicanism in the coming years: to disarm any pretence these dissidents have, not least in the build-up to 2016 and the centenary of the 1916 rising, that they are the sole keepers of the republican flame and that because they are the remnants of physical-force republicanism, they are the only people who stand in the 21st century for the ideals of Irish republicanism and for the principles in the 1916 proclamation. Democratic nationalism, in all its forms and parties—now joined, thankfully at last, by Sinn Fein—has a duty to get its act together to make sure that nobody is able to say that constitutional democratic nationalism, north and south, has been derelict on the basic nationalist cause or nationalist principle.
The dissidents try to say that those of us who subscribe to the Good Friday agreement have abandoned any belief in nationalism or the republican ideal. I am 100% committed to the Good Friday agreement but I am still 100% a nationalist and committed to a united Ireland. I also know that many Unionists are 100% committed to the shared institutions we now have in a settled process but that they are 100% committed to the Union. That is the strength and beauty of the agreement and these shared institutions: we can have our own different senses of legitimacy. The sense and source of legitimacy for me, as an Irish nationalist, comes from the wishes of the people of Ireland. The sense and source of legitimacy for Unionists is bound up in the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.
With the Good Friday agreement, we recruited both those senses and sources of legitimacy, so that we could give allegiance to institutions, because Unionists cannot give allegiance to institutions that are not legitimate according to their political ethic, and nationalists and republicans cannot give allegiance to institutions that are not legitimate according to theirs. That is why in negotiating the agreement and in ratifying it by the joint referendum—articulated self-determination for this generation of the Irish people—we significantly moved politics forward. We created a new beginning for politics and for policing.
There was massive resistance to that, as we knew then. At the time of the referendum on that agreement, I made pledges to people about those institutions. Many people found the institutions controversial; people found the idea of inclusion by mandate—just this elective inclusion—hard to grasp. I started off as its sole proponent in the Social Democratic and Labour party, and the SDLP started off in the talks as the sole party proposing it, but it became part of the outcome. Similarly, the idea of a joint office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister was ridiculed by many, not least because we came up with it only in the last month of the negotiations, but it was inspired by the sight of Seamus Mallon and David Trimble going to Poyntzpass following the murder of Damien Trainor and Philip Allen by the Loyalist Volunteer Force. That was a symbol: here were two leaders—unionism and nationalism—almost literally helping to bind the wounds of the community and defy a violent threat aimed at undermining political prospects at the time.
At the time of that referendum, I predicted that the Good Friday agreement institutions would have working in partnership not just unionists and nationalists, loyalists and republicans, but those who vote yes and those who vote no, because we did not want the agreement—those pro-agreement and anti-agreement—to end up being the new running cleavage in Northern Ireland politics or in Irish politics. Thankfully, that prediction has proved to be so.
Sinn Fein had to play catch-up in accepting and getting its head around the political institutions in the new arrangements and the new beginning for policing, which it rejected and attacked us for. All sorts of intimidatory gestures were used in the council chambers when we were nominating people to the district policing partnerships; gun-shaped hands were being pointed at people and all the rest of it. We faced that down and we saw this through because it needed to happen. Those people of course were saying that change would not happen. The unionists, in the form of the Democratic Unionist party and others, were saying that change should not happen, but it needed to happen. In the end, when those in Sinn Fein conformed on policing all they brought to the policing agenda was themselves. Nevertheless, that was important and welcome, and we see its importance and worth when we see the First Minister and Deputy First Minister able to stand with the Chief Constable and others in the aftermath of murders in recent years. That was hugely important and it had to happen, but some of us had to see it through and take that stand, and some of the “veto-holic” tendencies of other parties had to be faced down—that is what has to be remembered.
In today’s debate, I have listened to nostalgia bumping into amnesia on the way back from revisionism on the question of how we are where we are now. We have had more people on more roads to Damascus in Northern Ireland in the past 10 years than the Syrian bus fleet would have on a peaceful day. That has been good, because people have moved from justifying and supporting violence to being able to condemn it. They used to condemn us for the politics of condemnation; now they are thoroughly involved in condemning what should be and needs to be condemned and confronted.
There is also an issue about dissidents. Not only will they try to exploit the fact that the rest of us all support the agreement and are now branded as the establishment, particularly at a time when there is a lot of economic disaffection and difficulty—it is very easy for them to try to seize on that sense of alienation, which has been faced by some other hon. Members—but they are trying to exploit impressions about the situation in the prisons. Historically, the provisionals movement exploited impressions and issues in prisons in a way that helped to fuel them and their campaign and to feed a sense of alienation and disaffection, helping them to recruit other people. It is quite clear that the dissidents are trying to do the same.
I believe we need to disarm the dissidents of that ability, and we can do so. Nobody is more cynical about the cynicism of Sinn Fein than me, but when I meet republican dissident prisoners and their families and they tell me, “We think Sinn Fein is using the situation because they want to break us in the jails,” I tell them that although no one would be more on Sinn Fein’s case than me, I do not believe that that is true. The idea that Sinn Fein is using David Ford, the Minister of Justice, to help break their rivals in the prisons is simply not true. It is nonsense, but it is feeding the mindset of those people and we need to confront it.
We need to ensure that we deal with people’s legitimate questions and concerns in prisons, for example about why strip searches should be carried out at the rate and in the form in which they are carried out. Whenever there is a clear modern technological alternative, that should be used. Rather than wasting time experimenting with the technology in other locations, it should be brought in where it is most needed and that is Maghaberry.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that today the new BOSS— or body orifice security scanner—chair has been introduced into Northern Ireland, meaning that the number of full strip searches will be reduced? As a result, I understand, 20 dirty protestors have come off their dirty protests.
The hon. Gentleman is reinforcing my point, which I have made to people in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and to others, about my interventions and involvement and many other people’s, too. That is the point that we have been making; we want to see that argument disarmed.
Similarly, when people raised serious health questions about the circumstances of prisoners such as Marian Price and latterly Gerry McGeough, we were trying to ensure that those issues were properly addressed. Any sentences duly imposed must be served, but, as with any prisoner, if any issue gives rise to thoughts about their release, it should at least be considered.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the points he is making and realise that he does so with great passion, but if we are going to disarm those who try to use the prison situation as a recruiting ground for dissident republicans, would it not be helpful if the SDLP, rather than making the case that such an approach is almost valid, stood with the Justice Minister and others to say that the processes are in place, that health assessments for those prisoners are received and that the proper actions are being taken, disabusing them of the notion in that way?
I can assure the hon. Lady that in any of the conversations I have, I disarm people of any prejudice they might have. Any assurance I can give them about the attitude of the Prison Service, the Minister, the overall regime or anything else, I give them. It is equally important that representatives reflect the issues and concerns they hear from families, however.
There is also a point to make about where the dissidents are and where they hope to be. In my constituency, I see a number of different brands of dissident, but the one thing they have all been able to do in recent years is to get more young people to pick up their leaflets at events and to leave with some of their literature. We have had different brands of dissident. Some, such as those in RAAD—Republican Action Against Drugs—were seen for a number of years as policing dissidents, rather than political dissidents, as they did not disagree with the overall political project. Now they are disagreeing with the overall political project. They are finding each other and getting together, so there is some drift or mission creep among dissidents and we should not underestimate that.
Just as the dissidents are getting together, we as democrats should show that we stand together in our political institutions. Whatever political differences we might air in the Assembly, in the Chamber today or anywhere else, they must see us standing shoulder to shoulder behind the democratic opportunities mandated by the Irish people north and south, unionist and nationalist. We do not pretend that our problems are all behind us; the opportunities are all ahead of us and we can seize them by working and standing together.
This has been a very helpful debate. We have been outlining the positives that we all recognise in Northern Ireland, yet we have also highlighted the dangers that still face many of the law-abiding citizens in our constituencies. We are thankful that things are not as they used to be; nevertheless, we must not let our guard down, and we must not be complacent. Although many, including those within Government, call these terrorists dissidents, let us not forget that many of these same terrorists were players trained in the knowledge and practice of terrorism by the Provisional IRA leadership.
Before dealing specifically with the motion, I acknowledge the valuable contributions by many across the House, raising their voices in condemnation of the brutal murder of Mr David Black, a gentle man whom I had the privilege of knowing personally, being from the town in which I was educated; it formed part of my former constituency of Mid Ulster, which I represented in the House for 14 and a half years. Sadly, since 1997 that constituency has never had a voice in the House. The only beneficiaries are the coffers of Sinn Fein, without the obligation to give representation here.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for his opening speech, in which he skilfully and professionally set out the backcloth for our motion. I also thank the other Members who participated. I thank the Secretary of State for her thoughtful speech, rightly identifying the remarkable progress, which few could ever have imagined, in Northern Ireland. I also noted that she acknowledged the arrest of two persons from Coalisland in relation to the murder of Mr David Black. I would remind her, however, that recently, buildings were found in which weapons of war were being hoarded, nearby in the same Coalisland area. It would be interesting to know how much public money was received to erect or to rent those properties. I think that deeper investigations should be considered. I think of the Secretary of State’s remarks as regards a number of terrorists that have been arrested; the prosecutions identify that that is not an insignificant terrorist group, but does indeed pose a terrorist threat.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for acknowledging that things have changed significantly, and that we have a confident Northern Ireland, which is confident on the world stage. The excellent announcement that the Prime Minister was able to make yesterday concerning the G8 proves that confidence, not only within Northern Ireland but within the United Kingdom, as the Prime Minister projects Northern Ireland across the world in bringing world leaders to our Province. I also thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) for his participation, and the personal knowledge that he has expressed in this matter.
The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made a valuable intervention on the inventory of terrorist weaponry—because we do need the greatest possible transparency—and on a garden of remembrance for prison officers. Those are salient matters that needed to be brought up in the debate, and I thank her for doing so. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) pointed to the remarkable achievements. However, we should not underestimate the capacity of republicans to create serious problems to life and property, while bearing in mind the significant events of the past year. Thankfully, those events put us on the world stage for the right reason. We look forward to more remarkable events that are planned for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) pointed out that most Members of the House know nothing of what it is to have to look under their cars and to exercise personal security because one happens to be deemed to be an opponent of the republican terrorists. I think that is a fact that many in the House have never grasped, even in the darkest days of our Province.
I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). We certainly do not want to point Northern Ireland back into the dark ages we came through, but I can assure her that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Executive will work with her party’s Minister and leader, Mr Ford, and Security Minister, Mr Porter, in the efforts to give political leadership to the PSNI and the Prison Service at this challenging time.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke about the harrowing times past and the miracle of the present situation. We grandparents never want to see our grandchildren—I am proud to say that I have nine—go through the dark days that my children had to go through in our home, under constant threat from the terrorists in Northern Ireland.
To the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) I say that I accept that there is no acceptable level of violence—there never was; there never will be. Terrorism was an evil in our midst and terrorism is an evil in our midst. All must equally condemn it and none must be allowed to sanitise the evil of the past.
Although I disagreed with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), I suggest to her that when one has the opportunity, and uses it quite often, to give insults, it is always best to be able to take criticism when criticism is due. That is a good lesson, I think. There is a lesson in her evidence on why her colleagues in certain places supported McGeough, who tried to murder my colleague on Dungannon and South Tyrone council. The lesson of the past is this: you cannot go soft on terrorists; you cannot go soft on those who have actually gone through the courts, and when they have done so, they certainly have to spend the time in prison—
No, I will not. I was a member of Magherafelt district council. When young soldiers were murdered at Warrenpoint, it was an SDLP member—it is recorded in the minutes of the council—who said, “I will not shed a tear over the murder of those soldiers at Warrenpoint.”
He did, an SDLP member. It is recorded in the minutes. When challenged about why he would say such a thing, he replied, “Because they weren’t Irish.” That was despicable. I am happy for the hon. Lady to look at the minutes of the council, way back in Magherafelt. I was there; she was not.
The DUP motion rightly commences with our expression of deepest sympathy to the family of Prison Officer David Black. His murder represents an attack on society as a whole. I was stunned on hearing the tragic news of the despicable murder of another innocent victim of IRA terrorism. David was a public servant who gave honourable and unstinting service to the Prison Service. Unlike the cowards who murdered him, David exemplified all that is good in Ulster people, doing his duty with integrity, decency and bravery. We all know that a car with Dublin registration plates pulled up alongside David as he travelled between Portadown and Lurgan on the M1 motorway, and David was shot dead—in other words, he was brutally murdered.
Unlike most, if not all, Members of this House, I had the personal privilege of knowing David. I counted him and his wife’s family circle as personal friends. He was a loving husband to Yvonne, a devoted father to Kyle and Kara, and a caring son and brother. The murderers did not care about those excellent characteristics and credentials of David Black. All they had was a lust for blood; vile murder was in their hearts. To Yvonne, Kyle, Kara, his elderly parents and his sister, I offer my heartfelt sympathy, having walked the lonely pathway to the graveside of my own loved ones.
This was a cold-blooded and callous murder, but it must be remembered that the murders of the other 29 prison officers who were butchered by terrorists, mainly the Provisional IRA, were, too. Those who murdered all the prison officers, police officers, Ulster Defence Regiment members and innocent civilians are equally repugnant and evil. No elevation to high office or elected office can remove the stain from their conscience or erase the record from the eternal book, which will be opened on the day of judgment before the Almighty Judge and justice will finally be handed out.
I congratulate the Black family on the dignity that they have displayed before, during and after David’s funeral. I pray that God will give them strength day by day to face the future, but I can assure them that that is not easy. They have made it clear to all that they do not desire revenge, but they do want justice to be done and those responsible to be found guilty.
Republican terrorists will not be satisfied with the murders of Constable Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr or those of Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at the Massereene barracks in my constituency, or with the attempted murder of my constituent, Constable Peadar Heffron, or the numerous failed attempts on the lives of several members of the security forces. No, they are a part of the death squads of hate, and therefore the law-abiding community has a right to look to the Government for security and protection.
I appreciate that policing was devolved to Stormont, but national security, including for the people of Northern Ireland, is still the responsibility of this House. Therefore, it is important that a united voice goes out from this House in condemnation of the violence that is daily being planned by various republican terrorist groups against the vast majority of people, who simply desire to build a peaceful future. Indeed, many are finding it hard to cope with the economic downturn across Europe and face challenges with regard to daily living, including the possibility of some having to join the unemployment queues for the first time ever in their lives. When I look across the Province, I see enough suffering, sickness and hurt among families, and I cannot comprehend why some simply spend their energies scheming evil, desiring only to add grief, harassment, intimidation, terror and murder to our community.
We in Northern Ireland are resilient people. Indeed, we have proved this. We withstood more than 30 years of Provisional IRA bombs and bullets and resolutely faced them to achieve our right to remain part of this United Kingdom. Our legitimacy as Unionists, unlike what the hon. Member for Foyle has said, is not that the Unionist people of Northern Ireland desire to be part of the United Kingdom, but that Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales desire to be part of that United Kingdom. That is our legitimacy and it will be proven shortly, when the referendum comes to pass and the people of Scotland realise that we are stronger together than we would be apart. However, we need help. We urgently need the Government here to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to provide the fullest possible protection to members of the Prison Service and police officers in general, both serving and ex-members.
About two years ago, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed additional access to Treasury reserves—£200 million—over a four-year period to assist in the fight against republican terrorist groups. I appreciate that two years’ worth of money has been drawn down and that another two years’ worth is to follow, but the threat has not diminished in our Province to the point that we may not need extra money from the Treasury reserve fund. I therefore ask the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to give a commitment that as long as the security situation demands, additional funds from the Treasury reserve will be available to allow the police service to plan for the necessary equipment and personnel.
We also need to be assured that all necessary measures will be taken to combat and defeat the threat posed by terrorist organisations. We must not let our Province slip back into the cycle of murder and mayhem. We must therefore be determined to protect our community.
In conclusion, perhaps a few practical suggestions would be helpful. Many former prison and police officers live in vulnerable areas of the Province, and yet they have had their personal protection weapons removed. That is disgraceful. Many people, at the end of their sterling service through years of terrorism and intimidation, have been told to hand over their PPWs and have had the security measures removed from their homes. In their place, they have been handed a leaflet on personal protection. Will the Minister tell the House how many PPWs have been removed from former police officers, prison officers and personnel of the Ulster Defence Regiment or Royal Irish Regiment?
A few weeks ago, the Home Office stated that the threat from dissident IRA groups had reduced on the mainland. I welcome that, but we need to be careful in how we communicate such news. These sick, murdering maniacs can consider such language as putting it up to them and it can therefore be counter-productive. Indeed, it was after that announcement that my friend, David Black, was brutally murdered.
Although we must highlight the security threat, we must also put on the record how pleased we are to have the opportunity to welcome the world leaders of the G8 to our beautiful Province. I assure them and this House that our Province has much to offer. We will do all within our power to ensure that the world knows that Northern Ireland is and will continue to be, irrespective of any terrorist threat, open for business.
It is an honour and a privilege to stand here as the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. I have taken questions in this capacity, but this is my first debate.
May I say at the outset that even though there may be disagreements across the House—and we have seen a tiny bit of that today—we all want peace in Northern Ireland? The peace process has given us the ability to sit in this Chamber and discuss, fairly rationally, a difficult situation. In the past, that would have been more difficult or would not have happened at all. It certainly would not have taken place in the tone that we have heard today.
May I also, at the outset, place on the record my thoughts and prayers for the family of David Black? I was at his funeral with the Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State and other Members. It was one of the most moving funerals that I have ever attended. The way in which his children—they probably will not like my calling them children at their age, and I will probably get into trouble with my own daughter for calling them children—held themselves together to pay tribute to their father was enormously moving, as I said a few moments ago.
Although I was not at Enniskillen, I was at Corporal Day’s funeral. If had known that the First Minister was flying down, I would have flown down with him so that I could have been at both. However, it might have been a tight squeeze. In the next debate, I will perhaps make some further comments on Corporal Day and her loved ones.
The debate was rightly opened by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). In his wide-ranging speech, which has been reiterated by many other Members, the main thing that he called on Her Majesty’s Government to do was to be steadfast and give a long-term commitment to stamping out terrorism in Northern Ireland, no matter which side it comes from. We give that commitment today, as have the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on previous occasions.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister reiterated the point at meetings with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and told them, “As your Chief Constable said, you need more.” I said exactly the same to the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister, David Ford, and the Secretary of State has also said that. We meet regularly; my door is permanently open, my phone is on, and we can talk about many of the issues that we need to discuss. If there is a need, however, we will address it.
There has been much discussion of the £200 million from the contingency fund. That money has been on a two-year draw-down. A lot of it was drawn down early as it had to be for capital projects—what I call capital projects are slightly different from what others call them and include vehicles as well as buildings. We also needed money for people and ongoing revenue costs. The Government are working with David Ford and the Chief Constable to look at exactly how that money was spent, so that we can go back to the Treasury and say, “See, we need this funding again—or we will do in three years’ time.” We do not need a brand—new vehicle straight away, but that time will come. There is CCTV—technology moves on very fast, and we must ensure there is something in the pot for that. If we go back to the Treasury, it will probably not be for contingency funding. We would not do that in a normal spending round and would keep spending within the allocation.
We are, however, conscious that there are exceptional circumstances, particularly at the moment. The group likes to be called the “new IRA”, but that is the last time I will stand at the Dispatch Box and say that because there is nothing new about thuggery, murderers and people of that description. We give them oxygen by giving them that badge—they may think it is a badge of honour but it is exactly the opposite. Those people are thugs and murderers who are living in the past. They are trying to drag people—a lot of them young people—into what went on in the past, and we must do everything possible to address that.
There have been 16 contributions, 11 of which were not interventions but proper speeches. I will not be able to answer every question raised, but my officials have diligently taken notes and I will write to right hon. and hon. Members if I do not address their particular points now. One of the final points raised concerned how many personal protection weapons have been removed. I have been in this job for three and a half months but I do not know that figure off the top of my head. It was probably an obvious question and I should have had a response ready, but I will write to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and let him know.
The process is quite simple. There is an appeals process and a decision is made by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland either for a new weapon or for a weapons licence to be renewed. If that is declined, the case is referred to me on appeal. I assure hon. Members that I look at every individual case—I have had quite a few in the first couple of weeks, and think I might see some more.
I raised personal protection weapons when I met the head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and I will soon meet a representative of the Prison Officers Association, which I phoned the following day. The head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service told me categorically that any prison officer who needs a weapon will get one or has got one.
A lot of prison officers were not taking their weapons home. The issue of complacency was touched on during the debate, and I will come on to people checking their vehicles and so on in a moment. A lot of weapons were being left in the armoury at work and not being taken home. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We need to reiterate people’s personal responsibilities, as well as those of the state and employers. I concur with what was said about people having things taken away and being given a piece of paper, and more needs to be done on that. I know, for instance, that the PSNI has already visited and is giving seminars and doing work with prison officers to increase their awareness and ensure that measures are in place to help them.
In the last couple of months I have also looked carefully at home protection. I met Lord Carlile, the Chief Constable and David Ford to look at that issue, and we will look carefully at having a more level playing field. I do not care who someone is employed by; if they are doing a job, protecting people and are at risk, the situation should be the same for everyone. The system does not operate that way at the moment, and we will look carefully at the issue.
I could not go further without addressing the two points made in interventions by my friend the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—[Interruption.] She is a friend to me. First, on a commemoration for the 30 prison officers, it would be right and proper for us to have a round-table discussion with all interested people. I recently opened a new memorial in my constituency to those who have fallen since the second world war. The memorial, which was unveiled the day before Remembrance day this year, was provided by public donation. We could certainly look at her suggestion and have that discussion.
Secondly, on how much weaponry was taken away, the Prime Minister has said in the House that we do not have the list—it is not within the Government’s archives. The Secretary of State has offered to meet the hon. Lady, and we can see how that goes, but we genuinely do not have the list to release. The Prime Minister has said that, and I have had it checked during the debate.
I thank the Minister very much indeed for agreeing to a round-table discussion on a memorial garden for those 30 prison officers, which is wholly appropriate. I would hope that Finlay Spratt and others will be there.
On the inventory of decommissioned weapons, I welcome the Minister’s explanation that the Government appear not to have the document, but will he kindly confirm what is believed, which is that the document, the inventories and the details are kept in the university of Boston in America? Will the Minister clarify that if I were an academic, I could go to Boston and have open access to the inventories, but the people of Northern Ireland, and the MPs representing Northern Ireland, cannot see them? That is ludicrous.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and am pleased about the work we will look to do on the memorial.
On decommissioned weapons, the hon. Lady said earlier that we must not hide behind the independent body. Look at the size of me—I could not behind anybody! I am not hiding behind anything. I will discuss the matters the hon. Lady has mentioned with my officials, but I personally do not know where the hell those details are. She is much better informed than I, given the short time I have been in this job. The Secretary of State and officials will talk this through with the hon. Lady when they meet, but I have to go with the information I have been given.
Hon. Members have spoken of the terrible, appalling murder of David Black not only because it was a terrible murder, but because of how it was done. One thing that the police and forensics are looking at is exactly where that high-velocity weapon came from and where it has been stored. We know the weapon, but we do not know where it has been stored. Hon. Members have mentioned close protection weapons, but based on the evidence we have seen so far, David Black would not have been saved by one. Anyone willing to put so many people’s lives at risk by driving at speed on a motorway at 7.30 am while opening up with a high-velocity weapon shows a lack of care for other people that beggars belief.
Interestingly, those people are a bunch of cowards—they do not want to get hurt themselves but they put other people in the position of getting hurt—and they do not want to get caught, but their action was very risky. It is important that we try to understand where these dissident republicans are going rather than thinking back to the past and learning what they used to do. Some of their technology and methodology has not changed, but some things they are starting to do are different—probably out of desperation, but who knows?
I have promised to write to hon. Members if I do not deal with their points now, but in the one minute remaining I want to reiterate what the Prime Minister said yesterday when he was in Northern Ireland. It is significant that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom went to Northern Ireland to meet people in the very successful factory where they work. I got trapped with the owners on the plane coming back. They were so chuffed—it was absolutely brilliant for them to meet the Prime Minister and for their staff to have that personal contact. The Prime Minister reiterated—as did the Secretary of State—that we will work with the Opposition. We will work with anyone, and if some of these groups, on any side, want to meet me, I am more than happy to meet them anywhere. It is really important that we engage with them and try to dispel the concept that they could win anything by such actions. We need to work together, and we will give everything necessary, in security terms and in cost terms, to the PSNI and the other security services to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland go forward, not back into the terrible abyss of before.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Prison Officer David Black, whose murder represented an attack upon society as a whole; condemns the violence of the various republican terrorist groups now active in Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive in providing the fullest possible protection to members of the prison service and the security forces generally, and to ensure that all necessary resources and measures are deployed to combat the threat from terrorists in Northern Ireland.