I hold regular meetings with the Chief Constable of the PSNI, and we speak frequently by phone. We discuss a range of subjects, including police resourcing and the security situation in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that so-called punishment attacks continue to be carried out in Northern Ireland by both loyalist and republican groups. Will she condemn these acts of barbarism and give the House an indication of what the PSNI is doing to counter those criminals who prey on communities across parts of Northern Ireland?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s condemnation of these brutal attacks. We have seen a number of horrific attacks along these lines: the murder of Kevin Kearney, the attack on Jemma McGrath and, distressingly, an attack on a 15-year-old boy in recent weeks. These vigilante attacks are cowardly, ruthless and callous, and they are utterly unacceptable. I know that the PSNI is doing all it can to bring those responsible to justice.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the despicable terrorist attack on Belfast city centre at the weekend and other recent attacks represent a grave escalation in dissident terrorist activity, in an attempt to undermine investment, jobs and tourists coming to Northern Ireland? Can she give an assurance that she will stand with the people of Northern Ireland and the Executive in their determination to move ahead and not let these people drag us backwards?
I can. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Northern Ireland’s political leadership and the whole community in condemning these attacks and in supporting the determination to continue to make progress in Northern Ireland. These attacks are disgraceful; they could have put many lives at risk, and they are deliberately aimed at disrupting the economy in Northern Ireland and sowing the seeds of community division. I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland will not let the dissidents succeed in their objective of dividing our community.
I thank the Secretary of State for that assurance. Will she go further and say that she will commit herself to working closely with the Executive, the police and the security forces in Northern Ireland to look at what extra measures can be put in place to increase the operational capacity of the police, and to examine legislative changes that will enhance intelligence gathering for the security forces?
I am happy to give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance on both those points. We always look at ways in which the effectiveness of the police can be enhanced. Of course, there is a debate to be had on the Executive’s resourcing of the police in the next spending review. We are working with the police on that, and it is very important.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of whether all paramilitary organisations are observing ceasefires? Does she agree that if any are not doing so, they are betraying rather than serving the people they purport to represent?
I completely agree, and I think that my hon. Friend puts it very well when he says that paramilitary groups that come off their ceasefire are betraying the communities they purport to represent. My understanding is that, at the moment, no paramilitary organisations have come off their ceasefire, although I am, of course, well aware of the concerns felt about individual members of the Ulster Volunteer Force who are involved in criminality in east Belfast. The police are taking action to counter that.
Small business Saturday is important throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, but it is especially important in Northern Ireland. Last Friday, business people in Belfast and in Comber told me of their concerns and fears that the planned protests this Saturday will overshadow all the good work of small business Saturday. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the PSNI will receive the resources and assistance it needs to ensure that positive images are not drowned out by chaotic cacophony from the streets?
The hon. Gentleman puts his point well. We are entirely supportive of the efforts that the police will make to police the protest. I urge everyone involved to ensure that their protest is not only peaceful but entirely lawful and complies with the decision of the Parades Commission. I also call on them to think again about whether this is a wise thing to do. Although it will be disruptive, Belfast will be open for business. Many people will be out in the city centre doing their Christmas shopping despite the protest disruption.