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Public Order

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 16 October 2013

3. What discussions she has had with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland about recent disturbances in Northern Ireland. (900420)

I meet the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Justice Minister on a regular basis. Discussions at those meetings cover a wide range of security-related matters, including the outbreaks of public disorder that occurred in Northern Ireland during the summer.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the street violence that we saw in Belfast over the summer. Does the Secretary of State agree that such disgraceful behaviour damages the economy of Northern Ireland, and that it is essential that the determinations of the Parades Commission should be obeyed and the rule of law respected?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The scenes that we witnessed in Belfast over the summer were disgraceful. It is utterly unacceptable for the police to be attacked as they were during the several days of sustained rioting following the 12 July parades, and such scenes do significant damage to the Northern Ireland economy because they deter inward investment.

I should like to begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for his excellent work as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I should also like to thank the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for his kind remarks about my appointment. I say to the Secretary of State that we will continue to work in a bipartisan way whenever possible, and that peace and stability for the people of Northern Ireland must always take precedence over any party political differences. In the context of the recent disturbances and the need for peace and stability, the Haass talks are crucial. Will she tell the House how many times she has met Ambassador Haass, and when their most recent meeting was?

I have met Ambassador Haass twice and had a number of telephone conversations with him as well. My officials have met Dr Haass and his team on a number of occasions. I have also had a series of meetings with the political parties, business representatives and members of civil society to determine what they want from the Haass process. This Government are entirely engaged in the process because, like the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), I believe it represents an important way forward in resolving the continuing tensions. I thank him for his reiteration of the bipartisan approach taken by his predecessor, and I welcome him to his new post.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. It is incredibly important that she and her counterparts in the Irish Government—as well as the five Executive parties—remain totally engaged in every stage of the Haass process. Will she give the House an assurance that that is going to happen?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, and he will be delighted to hear that Dr Haass is expected to visit No. 10 tomorrow. I am also staying in close touch with Eamon Gilmore on these matters, because working together with the Irish Government and across the community in Northern Ireland is an important way of building consensus to resolve the problems that Dr Haass is looking at.

I am sure that the House will agree that we can only admire the way in which the Police Service of Northern Ireland handled the crowd disturbances during the summer, but is the Secretary of State convinced that the PSNI would have the resources to deal adequately with any armed disturbances that might occur, as they could do at any moment?

Yes, I believe the PSNI does have the means and resources to deal with street violence in Northern Ireland. We keep these matters under constant review, but we supplemented PSNI funding by £200 million in the last spending review and will supplement it by £31 million in the next spending review. The provision of expensive mutual aid from GB police forces proved to be extremely successful during this summer’s parading season.

During discussions with the Chief Constable on matters relating to civil disturbance and terrorist attack, was the demand for additional resources included to enable the Chief Constable to employ officers on the ground to deal with other criminal activity, such as the despicable attack on an 81-year-old man in my constituency at the weekend in which he was tied up, beaten and terrorised in his own home?

I am very concerned to hear about what happened to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and I hope he will pass on my sympathies to him. Yes, I am afraid that one consequence of street disorder and extensive demonstrations night after night is that police resources get tied up with those matters, which makes it more difficult to fight crime across Northern Ireland. That is why I urge those who are contemplating street violence not to proceed with it. That is not the way to further their cause and they are likely to end up with a prison sentence if they continue on that course.

Is it not the case that more police officers would have been injured and that it would have taken longer to quell the disorder were it not for the effective deployment of water cannon? Will my right hon. Friend use her best endeavours to ensure that the lessons learned are understood by police forces here on the mainland?

These are clearly operational matters for the PSNI, but I agree that its job would have been made more difficult if it had not been able to access water cannon. I am sure that the Home Secretary and her colleagues will be interested to learn from the experience of using this equipment.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the security situation in Northern Ireland has deteriorated not just in respect of civil disorder, but in respect of an increase in paramilitary activity both from dissident and republicans and from loyalists. Will the right hon. Lady ensure that everything she can do to ensure that those who are responsible for those attacks, murders and attempted murders, including in my own constituency, are brought to justice and that the police have the resources to deal with them?

The Government and I are fully supportive of all the efforts being made by the PSNI and its partners to bring to justice those responsible for dissident republican violence, those responsible for criminality and those responsible for the disgraceful punishment shootings that have taken place. I am particularly concerned about the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency and the continuing protests and intimidation to which she and her staff are being subjected. The threats that she, along with other elected representatives in Northern Ireland, has received over recent months are utterly disgraceful, and I urge anyone with knowledge about who is responsible for this kind of criminal behaviour to bring it to the attention of the PSNI as soon as possible.