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Paramilitary Groups (Northern Ireland)

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the assessment of the structure, roles and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, which I am publishing today and copies of which I am placing in the Library. Before I turn to the assessment, it is worth reminding the House of the phenomenal progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years. We have moved on from a time when terrorism was an almost daily fact of life to one where the overwhelming majority have completely rejected violence as a means of trying to secure political ends. The political settlement, which sees people who were once enemies working together for the good of the whole community, has transformed life for the better. However, as the murders of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan have highlighted, there are still serious legacy issues that need to be addressed, and they include the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary groups.

I commissioned an assessment of those matters following the statement in August by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that a line of inquiry in relation to the murder of Kevin McGuigan was the involvement of members of the Provisional IRA. The assessment has been jointly drafted by the PSNI and MI5, drawing on current intelligence, and has been reviewed by three independent figures, Lord Carlile, QC, Rosalie Flanagan and Stephen Shaw, QC. The three reviewers have confirmed today that the PSNI and MI5 engaged fully with them, consistent with their duties and constraints, and that the assessments are, in their words, “fair and balanced”, “evidence based” and “credible”. They state that they are

“satisfied that the assessments meet all the requirements placed upon us”.

I wish to thank the PSNI, MI5, and the independent reviewers for carrying out this important work within the timeframe I gave them.

I would first like to set out the Government’s position on paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland: paramilitary organisations have no place in a democratic society. They were never justified in the past, they are not justified today and they should disband. These organisations brought misery and suffering throughout the 30 years of the troubles. Together, they were responsible for more than 3,000 murders, and thousands more have been injured. Only last week a service was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the IRA murder of that great champion of freedom and democracy, Ian Gow. Today the thoughts of the House should be with all those who suffered directly at the hands of paramilitary organisations. We should also be mindful of the fact that, thanks in large part to the efforts of the police and our armed forces, along with the determination of the overwhelming majority of people across these islands, the future of Northern Ireland will only ever be determined by democracy and consent.

The assessment sets out the position in respect of those organisations that declared ceasefires in order to support and facilitate the political process. It does not cover in any detail the threat posed by dissident republican groupings, which is the subject of separate, regular reports that I make to this House. The assessment does, though, confirm that dissident republicans remain a severe threat and that, at any given time, a terrorist attack from them is highly likely. For our part, the Government will always give the police and security services the fullest possible backing in their efforts to keep the people in Northern Ireland safe and secure.

The assessment confirms that all the main paramilitary groups operating during the troubles are still in existence, including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando, the Ulster Defence Association, the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army.

On structures, the assessment finds that

“the majority of paramilitary organisations in this report still have leadership structures”


“organise themselves along militaristic lines.”

It goes on to say:

“These labels make the groups look more prepared for a campaign of violence than they are”

and that

“in the highly unlikely event that the groups are minded to return to terrorism, we judge they would be unable to resurrect the capability demonstrated at their peak.”

On the role of these groups, the assessment concludes that

“none of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks”,

although some INLA members have provided help to dissident republican terrorists.

The report also states that

“members of these paramilitary groups continue to engage in violent activity, both directed by local leadership and conducted without sanction.”

It says that

“members of all groups have carried out murders since the 1998 Belfast Agreement.”

In addition, the assessment makes it clear that

“members of these paramilitary groups, to different degrees, are also involved in other serious criminal activity.”

That includes:

“large scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion.”

On weapons, the report says that

“although the majority of paramilitary weapons were decommissioned, some were not.”

On the purpose of these groups, it concludes that

“it is our firm assessment that the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups are committed to peaceful means to achieve their political objectives”

but that

“we judge that individual members of paramilitary groups with a legacy of violent activity still represent a threat to national security.”

The report is in no doubt that these groups

“cause serious harm to the communities in which they are embedded and undermine support for policing.”

On the individual groups, the assessment confirms that the

“structures of the UVF remain in existence and that there are some indications of recruitment.”

It states that

“the UVF’s leadership has attempted to steer its membership towards peaceful initiatives and to carve out a new constructive role in representing the loyalist community.”

However, the assessment goes on to confirm that

“a larger number of members, including some senior figures, are extensively involved in organised crime.”

UVF members are also involved in paramilitary assaults.

In respect of the UDA, the assessment concludes that while its structures remain in existence they have “become increasingly fragmented” and are split into “discrete geographical areas” that “act almost completely autonomously.”

The assessment states that

“with the support of some leadership figures there are UDA members who have continued attempts to steer the group into positive community based activism.”

Others, however, remain engaged in criminality and violence with individual members and some senior figures involved in organised crime, including

“drug dealing, robbery, extortion, and the distribution of counterfeit and contraband goods.”

There is also involvement in paramilitary style assaults, street disorder and violent protest.

In respect of the Provisional IRA, the assessment says:

“The structures of PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form”


“a senior leadership, the ‘Provisional Army Council’ and some ‘departments’.”

The authors of the report do not believe that the group is actively recruiting. They state that, although decommissioning took place between 2001 and 2005, PIRA continues to have access to some weapons. However, the assessment judges

“that PIRA has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last IMC report of 2011.”

While the assessment states that

“PIRA members believe that the PAC oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”,

it judges that

“this has a wholly political focus.”

The report points out that

“individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity, such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders.”

In conclusion, the report says:

“The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall. It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means. The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state.”

That is a direct quote from the assessment.

I will not seek to hide from the House that much of the assessment makes uncomfortable reading. These organisations should never have existed in the first place and, 21 years after the first ceasefires, it is clearly unacceptable that they still exist today.

For all that the assessment judges the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups to be committed to peaceful means, such groupings have no place in a democratic society. Members of those groups continue to exert a malign influence, which, as the assessment puts it

“harms communities and damages the financial prosperity and reputation of Northern Ireland.”

Inevitably, a document of this kind does not provide all the answers, but I hope that it will assist in identifying the nature and scale of the problem and in framing the debate about the way forward. Working with the main political parties, and society more broadly, we need a strategy to lead us to the point where these organisations no longer exist and their influence is removed from Northern Ireland once and for all. That is one of the two main goals of the talks that I am chairing at Stormont and it is an outcome to which all parties say they are committed.

The other goal is to secure the implementation of the Stormont House agreement. I believe that those talks represent the best chance of making progress on both these vital issues and of finding a way forward that builds a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland. We all now need to engage intensively in the talks in the days ahead, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement and for her usual courtesy. May I also join her in thanking the members of the independent panel for their serious report, which I know will be read by the families of the victims? Those families and those victims are very much in our thoughts today.

Does the Secretary of State agree that at the heart of the undeniable progress that has been made in Northern Ireland is trust? I am talking about trust in the institutions, trust in the democratic process and, crucially, trust between parties and politicians. Above all, there is a belief in the principle of the rule of law. It is that core principle that has to be paramount. It is a principle that has to be at the centre of the continuing progress in Northern Ireland, and we should not forget that the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland remains crucial to that.

The current political crisis in Northern Ireland was sparked by allegations surrounding the murder of Kevin McGuigan, following the murder of Gerard Davison. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the report says about those murders and the extent of any paramilitary activity? In order to reach its conclusion, the panel will have had access to sensitive intelligence. Will she confirm that the panel has obtained all the intelligence for which it has asked? Crucially, will the Secretary of State tell us whether she believes that the assessment of the independent panel and its report today provides a basis for an end to the political crisis in Northern Ireland? If she does, what happens now and how will progress be made? Will she be convening further talks? If not, what does she expect to happen and what will she do?

Will the Secretary of State also update the House on the current situation with respect to the Stormont House agreement and when she intends to publish the Bill?

The reaction of the Northern Ireland parties to the panel’s conclusions is obviously of huge importance. Has the Secretary of State had any preliminary discussion with the parties on this matter? It is also important to know the view of the Irish Government. Will she say what discussions she has had with them?

Paramilitary activity has no place in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of the people do not want it and neither do their politicians. Does she agree that it is for the police to enforce the law? They should, of course, be accountable, but their independence is crucial. No paramilitary activity is acceptable, whether it is carried out by remnants of the IRA or loyalist paramilitaries. Will the right hon. Lady tell us what measures, if any, she intends to take as a result of the report? Much of the media focus has been on the IRA, but what is her view of loyalist paramilitaries? Does she believe, for example, that the establishment of the Loyalist Community Council recently was a good thing?

Is not one of the crucial conclusions of the report that

“none of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks”?

Does the Secretary of State agree that, as the report states,

“the existence and cohesion of these groups since their ceasefire has played an important role in enabling the transition from extreme violence to political progress”?

If so, what does that mean for the future? Can she confirm that, as the report says, it is individual members of paramilitary groups who pose the real threat? Although much of the focus is rightly on threats to national security, is it not disgraceful and unacceptable for any individuals or groups to be involved in what the report describes as

“large scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion of local business”?

It is surely right, therefore, that we in this House restate our support for the work of the PSNI in tackling these issues.

There can be no doubt that once again hugely difficult issues have arisen in Northern Ireland—issues that are an immense challenge to the politicians of Northern Ireland and to all of us who seek to support them as they emerge from the horror of the past. We know that time and again politicians in Northern Ireland have risen to that challenge. They have found a way forward. They have dealt with seemingly intractable problems. Is it not time again for all of us to restate the fundamentals of the agreements that have brought us to where we are, and to reassert the principles of trust, sensitivity and mutual respect on which so much progress has been made, and the primacy of the rule of law? So many people have said to me that they do not want their children or grandchildren to suffer as they have done. Let us all find a way once again to ensure that that aspiration remains a reality.

I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that trust between political parties is crucial in making progress in Northern Ireland and crucial to the effective functioning of devolved government. I wholeheartedly agree that belief in the rule of law and support for that concept is crucial in Northern Ireland, just as it is everywhere else in our country. Like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the PSNI does a hugely important job in tackling not just the terrorism of the dissident republicans, but the criminality from the groupings about which I have been speaking today.

In relation to the case of Kevin McGuigan, the assessment confirms that the view of the two organisations, the PSNI and MI5, which compiled the report, is that the Chief Constable’s statement in August remains valid, so the situation in relation to the Kevin McGuigan case continues to be as set out by the PSNI in August.

On the question of access by the panel to classified and sensitive intelligence, yes, members of the panel were shown classified material and they had access to individuals from MI5 and the PSNI to challenge them on the process by which the assessment and the report had been compiled.

The shadow Secretary of State asked whether I believe the assessment can provide a basis to move forward. Yes, I do. As I said in my statement, I do not for a moment say that it answers all the questions in relation to paramilitary organisations. There is now a pressing need in the talks for the parties together to establish what is the best way to grapple with the continuing problems associated with the existence of paramilitary organisations, but I hope the publication of the assessment will inform the decisions that will need to be made in the coming days by the leaders of Northern Ireland.

In response to the question about my discussions on these matters, I have had extensive discussions with the five main parties in Northern Ireland and with the Irish Government as part of the talks process and beyond that. On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the establishment of the Loyalist Community Council, I welcome initiatives designed to move groups away from criminality, but this initiative must be judged on its results.

I echo the shadow Secretary of State. It is correct to highlight the conclusion in the assessment that none of the groups under consideration is planning terrorist attacks. He referred to the role these groups might have played in the transition of their members from a violent past to a peaceful future. I acknowledge that the picture is mixed, but there are some aspects of the assessment that are not completely negative.

That covers most of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I close by saying that I agree with him that it is unacceptable for individuals, whether they are in paramilitary organisations or not, to be involved in disgraceful activity such as the fuel laundering and smuggling that I outlined today.

The report makes for depressing reading in some ways. Has the Secretary of State had the chance to assess whether any of the money from the fuel smuggling, extortion and so forth finds its way into the political process? Does she agree that the work of these criminals is no reason to bring the institutions down, provided that the police and the other agencies have sufficient resources to track these people down and stamp out their poisonous activities? Are sufficient resources going to these agencies so that they can do exactly that?

Yes, in some ways the assessment makes for depressing reading but, as I said to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the assessment is that the statement of the Chief Constable remains valid. He emphasised in that statement that the criminality appears to be by members for personal gain and to pursue personal agendas, so there is no evidence of funds being diverted for political purposes. On police resources, it is important that the police have the resources they need to tackle criminality and terrorism. That is one of the reasons why the UK Government have provided additional security funding, and it is why we need to resolve the budget questions around the Northern Ireland Executive and implement welfare reform so that it has resources for its priorities, such as policing.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of her statement. That is much appreciated.

I and my party very much welcome the assessment of the review panel, showing that there is little likelihood of a return to the levels of violence that we saw during the troubles. So many people have worked on that over the years and the peace has been hard won. It is very satisfying to note that, in the main, the intent among the parties and organisations is to keep that peace.

There are, of course, the concerns already mentioned about the ongoing criminality and the damage that can be done to communities by that. The police and security services, as mentioned, will require ongoing support in addressing that. I note, though, that the report is clear that the concerns relate to both sides of the debate. We can perhaps now leave aside the idea that one side maintains readiness and the other does not. Both sides, it seems, continue to operate at a lower level than they did previously. I offer whatever help I and my party can provide in dealing with the issues outlined.

In the light of the report and the other developments, including the recent development in the investigation of the murder of Kevin McGuigan, is the Secretary of State confident that the talks to put the Stormont House agreement back on track can now succeed? Does she have any indication that all the governing parties are ready to return to their ministerial posts in Stormont? In relation to her analysis of what will be required to address the criminality mentioned in the report, does the Secretary of State believe—I realise that this question has already been raised—that sufficient resources are available to the police and the security services to tackle it?

I, too, welcome the assessment’s confirmation that the intelligence services do not believe that any of these paramilitary organisations are preparing for a return to terrorism. The hon. Lady is also right to highlight the fact that the problem of criminality is common across the different organisations. She asked whether I am confident that the talks will succeed. It is difficult to say, because there are still some significant gaps between the parties, and the debate over the financial sustainability measures, which are crucial if we are to return to successful devolved government, continues to be difficult to resolve. However, I believe that all five parties participating in the talks want to find a way through and to make devolution work, so I have some hope that we might have a successful outcome, although it is not guaranteed.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, particularly her tribute to our military and security forces, who defended the rule of law through some very difficult decades and created the conditions in which the talks could take place. Does she agree that we cannot have a normal political process in Northern Ireland while those engaged in political activity have links to shadowy organisations that might either go to the grotesque end of murdering Kevin McGuigan, or indulge in money-raising activity that is wholly illegal, such as racketeering, money laundering and fuel smuggling? The answer is absolutely to bear down on every one of those criminal activities, regardless of where that might lead and any potential political embarrassment.

I agree that it is vital that Northern Ireland moves to a situation in which paramilitary groups are part of its past, not its present or its future. It is entirely unacceptable for those organisations still to exist, and the involvement of their members in such serious criminal acts must be a matter of grave concern. It is vital that the police follow the evidence wherever it leads them. Bearing down on the criminal activities of those individuals is how we will help Northern Ireland to move forward.

Our party sought this assessment, and it comes as a result of the pressure that we were determined to exert, whatever the criticisms or brickbats that that brought us. We therefore welcome its publication today, setting out the clear, factual position regarding paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. However, the report demonstrates the scale of the work that lies ahead in the talks process. It states that the IRA is committed to the peace process, and it recognises the lack of recruitment, procurement of weapons and so on. Nevertheless, it clearly sets out the continuing existence of its paramilitary structures—that applies to all the organisations that were looked at—and illegal activity by its members. That is totally unacceptable, and it is beyond high time that it was ended in all its forms—terrorism and criminality.

With regard to the account of loyalist groups, although there are no direct implications for devolved government, it is essential that transformation takes place in that regard, too. In that context, will the Secretary of State welcome the willingness of the leadership of those groups to move forward, as publicised last week? Will she work with us, and all those committed to peaceful and democratic means, to end once and for all—this must be the outcome of the talks process—all forms of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland?

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that commitment. I think it is vital that we find a way to end all forms of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. I also agree that it is crucial that the talks currently underway succeed. All the parties need to engage intensively on this matter and on the Stormont House agreement, because without resolution of those questions it is difficult to see how we can have an effective and functioning Executive delivering on their priorities. It was very important that the assessment was produced and that we have further facts in the public domain, but I acknowledge his point that the scale of the task is great. We must not underestimate that, which is another reason why all the parties need to engage in the talks with determination to find a way forward.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and the panel on its assessment, which offers partial reassurance, but does she agree that that reassurance must be qualified by the fact that, unlike state actors, paramilitaries do not obligingly leave an audit trail that can easily be assessed by intelligence services, however excellent they are?

Naturally, with criminal and paramilitary activity it is not easy to get an entirely clear picture. Of course, a key element of the talks will be deciding what further process of verification is needed. There has been considerable discussion of reviving a body similar to the Independent Monitoring Commission. I think that is a useful point for discussion, and I am sure that the parties will be considering it in the coming days.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. I know that she has tried to put as positive a spin as possible on the report, but it confirms that the report by the Chief Constable of the PSNI two months ago was accurate, that the IRA is still in place, that IRA members murdered Kevin McGuigan and that they are still involved in paramilitary and criminal activity. It actually goes further and gives more information, indicating that the IRA army council is still in place and that it oversees the IRA and Sinn Féin’s overarching strategy. Will she now indicate whether Sinn Féin accepts that the IRA is still in place, and does she accept that the IRA and Sinn Féin continue to be inextricably linked?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to hear that I am unable to speak for Sinn Féin—no doubt it will provide its own response to the report—but I also take issue with him, because I am not trying to put any spin on the assessment. Today of all days, we need people to read the report and consider it objectively. Yes, there is a great deal in it to be very concerned about, but we need to use it as an opportunity to reflect on how we deal with the problem and on what more needs to be done to ensure that Northern Ireland makes progress. I have acknowledged that the situation is serious and that the task will not be easy, but I think that it is a task that can be achieved. Northern Ireland’s leaders have shown in the past that they are capable of grappling with this very difficult kind of issue.

When I was the intelligence officer in Londonderry, the discipline among paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Provisional IRA was hugely effective. The independent reviewers have clearly suggested that the leadership of such organisations are not necessarily in control of what their members are doing. I suggest that our security services should be putting huge efforts into dislocating and separating these maverick members of paramilitary organisations from their leadership, who say that they have nothing to do with the upsurge in violence.

It is certainly clear from the assessment that in many cases the leadership of the various organisations do not control or sanction what their members get up to, but I can assure my hon. Friend that Northern Ireland has an outstanding police service, supported by the intelligence services, and they will pursue crime wherever they find it. They do a fantastic job. They will pursue the individuals responsible for the sorts of crimes outlined in the report with as much vigour and determination as they pursue anyone else involved in wrongdoing in Northern Ireland.

I am very grateful indeed to the Secretary of State for making her statement to the House. I am relieved that, with regard to the Provisional IRA:

“The PSNI and MI5 do not believe the group is actively recruiting.”

However, what I am worried about, and very curious about, is how much seepage there is from the Provisional IRA to dissident republicans. Is there a high or low level of seepage? What is her assessment?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that these are very sensitive matters and that it is not appropriate for me to go beyond the assessment. Naturally, the risk of seepage between the Provisional IRA and dissident republican groups is always a risk about which our intelligence services and the PSNI are acutely aware. One of the reasons these groupings remain a threat to national security is the danger that their expertise might find its way into the hands of dissident republicans. That is a risk that we all need to be aware of.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said and the work of the panel. Given the information we now have, does she believe that there should be a continuing role for such assessments going into the future?

Almost all the parties have made it clear that part of the solution on paramilitary organisations is an ongoing process of verification that is demonstrably independent, so that is likely to be part of a successful outcome to cross-party talks.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the assessment proves that there is a need for a whole community approach to making sure that we eradicate all traces of malignant paramilitarism? Does she also agree that alongside that we need a whole enforcement approach by policing and revenue channels against any level of criminality? We have to be absolutely clear that no level of crime can be treated as par for the course in a peace process. We welcome the predisposition towards peace, but we cannot accept a predilection towards crime from the members of these groups.

I agree with all of that. We do need a whole community approach to resolving this problem, and we do need a whole enforcement approach. I pay tribute to the work of groups such as the Organised Crime Task Force, which co-ordinates all the organisations working on organised crime. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no tolerable level of criminality. Anyone responsible for criminal activity should be pursued by the police and brought to justice.

May I remind my right hon. Friend that this is not a Northern Ireland problem but a UK problem? The offence of paramilitary violence that has been the scourge of our lives for more than 50 years in these islands has affected some of our families directly, in all parts of the House. I urge her to maintain the pressure that she has so rightly placed on the criminal actions of a few, and to encourage the PSNI, which has been extremely courageous in its work these past years, to continue its work.

I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a UK-wide issue. He is right to remind us all that victims and survivors of the troubles are not confined to the population of Northern Ireland; many of them live in Great Britain. Indeed, there are also people elsewhere in the world who share the pain of those who suffered directly at the hands of these terrorist organisations in their violent past.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and commend my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for his response. The Secretary of State said that she wants to see the full implementation of the Stormont House agreement, and I wholeheartedly share her sentiments and support her in that. Is it the Government’s position that they wish to see agreement between all the parties before legislating on the Stormont House agreement, and how long does she anticipate it will take to get that agreement?

We have had some good discussions in the talks on the technical aspects of the legislation needed to deliver the institutions on the past. We hope to introduce that legislation soon. It is important that the Stormont House agreement is implemented in full. The parties have the opportunity to get that process back on the road, and I hope that they will engage intensively in the talks in the days to come.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement. Clearly, this is a delicate balancing act. In her assessment, has she considered whether any of the parties have breached any of the commitments they made at the Good Friday agreement or at the Stormont House agreement and have, as such, vacated their position as part of the overall strategy for Northern Ireland?

For clarification, the assessment in relation to the paramilitary organisations does not indicate that those organisations are no longer on ceasefire. However, I think that my hon. Friend’s question was primarily about the Stormont House agreement. As the House will be aware, the major blockage on the Stormont House agreement is that the two nationalist parties, having signed up at Stormont castle to welfare reform with top-ups from the block grant, then withdrew their support. That is an instance where two of the parties signed up to something and are not currently supporting it, but I hope we can find a way to get their support back in the days to come.

As the Secretary of State has indicated, dissident republicans are very active and deadly. The PSNI is on a high alert. Army units have been sent to the Province to give assistance to the PSNI. The terrorist threat is at a severe level in Northern Ireland. The law-abiding overwhelming majority of Northern Ireland citizens are sick to the back teeth of this cancer in our society. Does she agree that only by taking a ruthless and uncompromising approach to paramilitary activity can we have a real chance to heal the scars on the face of Northern Ireland once and for all?

We certainly need an uncompromising approach to pursuing criminality wherever it is found. It is also important to harness the activities of wider society. One of the problems in getting convictions for things like paramilitary assaults is that people feel afraid to come forward and give evidence. We need to reflect on what more can be done to give them the confidence to confront these individuals in their communities and to come forward and give evidence in court when those individuals commit crimes.

The assessment makes it clear that the time of large-scale mass violence by paramilitaries is a thing of the past, but there is a danger, as the years from that period to now extend, that people will romanticise that period of violence and that people who formally or informally associate themselves with paramilitary groups will take independent violent action. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to ensure that this romanticisation is nipped in the bud and that people who aspire to relive what they perhaps believe to be some glorious bygone era have their minds set straight and do not embark on individual acts of violence?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a tendency among some to try to rewrite history. That is something that this Government will never support and will always firmly oppose. There is no possible means by which one could romanticise a campaign that saw thousands of people murdered. That is at the heart of our approach to the institutions on the past to be created under the Stormont House agreement. They must be balanced, objective, fair and impartial to make sure that we establish all the facts about the history of the troubles, and do not enable anyone to seek to rewrite the history of the troubles and to draw some wholly unacceptable form of equivalence between terrorism and police officers.

The report indicates that individual IRA members remain involved in criminal activity and describes a range of acts, from smuggling right up to murder. What it does not say is that those people are defended by Sinn Féin political representatives who eulogise them, discourage people from giving evidence against them, and make excuses for their activities. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the biggest impediments to making devolution work in Northern Ireland is the ambivalence of Sinn Féin’s political representatives to the criminality of their associates?

I can provide the hon. Gentleman with at least a degree of reassurance on that. Sinn Féin has always been very clear with me that it condemns criminal acts and criminality. It has certainly done that in relation to whoever was responsible for the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I think it is safe to say that it would always be naive to believe that these organisations, after so many years of killing and terrorising, would just disappear. Does she agree that the biggest issue is that while they might not be planning to launch terrorist attacks against the state, they are still encouraging a culture of criminality, including murder and extortion, that terrorises local communities, and that there is no way we can have a peaceful Northern Ireland for its people if these organisations remain?

My hon. Friend puts his points very well. It is worth recalling that some paramilitary assaults have involved teenagers—young people—and in some instances such assaults are child abuse. There is a real brutality to some of the cases we have seen in Northern Ireland in recent years. That is another reason why it is vital that we see an end to paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. Paramilitary action was never justified at any stage, whether now or in the past. All those murders and all that violence and terrorism were totally unjustified and put people in a great state of peril.

Will the Secretary of State outline what the paramilitary organisations could do to assist in alleviating the problems and anguish experienced by victims, and those who have lost loved ones either through the bullet or the bomb, who are anxious that the Governments and the paramilitary organisations resolve those issues to provide full truth and accountability?

I wholeheartedly agree that the terrorist activities of those groups was never justified, and I pay tribute to the role played by the hon. Lady’s party and the other parties in Northern Ireland that stood out against terrorism throughout the 30 years of the troubles. The crucial way forward for those groupings is to cease involvement in criminality. Their members should stop their criminal activities, and it is vital that the police continue to do all they can to pursue anyone who continues to be involved in such activity.

May I thank the Secretary of State and others both for their work on the report and for all the work that goes into everything for us in Northern Ireland? On PIRA, page 11 mentions the continued existence of senior leadership, the provisional army council and some departments. I assume that similar departments—which suggest to me a department of knee-capping or of smuggling—exist in other paramilitary organisations. The Secretary of State has said that she will take an uncompromising approach in future, so will she make sure that all political parties employ no one who is linked to such organisations?

As I have said on a number of occasions, anyone involved in criminal activity should expect to face justice, and the police will pursue anyone involved in such activities. On the organisational structures, the assessment provides further information beyond what the Chief Constable was able to share in his statement. Parties and individuals, however, will continue to have questions about the organisations and how they are run and structured. That is another reason why a formal ongoing verification process to try to move us forward towards resolving the problems once and for all will be an important part of a successful outcome to the talks.

I do not think it comes as much of a surprise to any Member that structures are still in place. Security forces personnel to whom I have spoken are concerned that members of the Provisional IRA who have bomb-building experience have moved to dissident organisations and that that is why there have been a number of under-car booby trap bombs in the past few weeks and months. I am sure that the Secretary of State and the security forces are investigating that.

The security forces have placed a huge priority on seeking to prevent the dissident republican groupings from carrying out lethal attacks. In recent days there have been two examples of attacks on the state by those groupings. It is crucial that the PSNI and its security partners both north and south of the border continue to do all they can to keep people in Northern Ireland safe from the terrorist threat from dissident republicans, and I am confident that they will do that.

Last but not least, I was very pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the Government will always give the police and the security services the fullest possible backing in their efforts to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure. On Thursday we learned of a murder attempt on a member of the armed forces in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), and on Friday there was an attempted murder of PSNI colleagues in my constituency of Belfast East.

The Secretary of State will know that, sadly, extremism still exists on the fringes of our society, yet we discovered yesterday that Northern Ireland is specifically excluded from the Government’s counter-extremism strategy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary on that, and what assistance does she believe the strategy could give to the righteous fight against extremism in Northern Ireland and across the UK?

I have discussed this important matter with the Home Secretary on a number of occasions. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the part of the report that makes it clear that the UK Government are open to extending the strategy to Northern Ireland in the future. Given the particular circumstances, we do not think that is appropriate just now, but we are happy to work with the devolved bodies to share best practice and do all we can to counter extremism in whatever form it comes.