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Security Situation

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016

2. What recent discussions she has had on the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. (905249)

The Government are determined to do everything possible to keep people in Northern Ireland safe. I meet the Chief Constable, the Justice Minister and others regularly to discuss the security situation. I would like to acknowledge the exceptional work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which does an outstanding job tackling the terrorism threat.

Will the Secretary of State join me in praising our security services for helping recently to uncover a cache of paramilitary arms? If she can, will she tell the House whether the armaments found were a historical cache or more modern weaponry?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are limits to what I can share with the House, but I can assure him that the police are doing everything they can to bring to justice whoever was responsible for this cache of arms and that efforts, both north and south of the border, remain intense in seeking to press down on the terrorist threat. Sadly, there continues to be a significant amount of activity from small groupings seeking to pursue their aims by terror, but, thankfully, in the vast majority of cases, their plans do not result in harm being carried out, and that is because of the excellent work of the police.

11. It is obviously excellent and heartening news that the number of shooting incidents has fallen to its lowest level since 1969, but there obviously remains a credible threat from dissidents. Does the Secretary of State agree that even more needs to be done to choke off funding from organised crime and smuggling on both sides of the border? (905259)

A huge amount of work is being done on these matters, but my hon. Friend is right that more can always be done. I warmly welcome the publication of the report on paramilitary activity by the panel this week. We have managed to get national security attacks down to 16 in 2015 from 40 at their peak in 2010, but it is crucial that Northern Ireland as a whole moves forward, away from paramilitarism. Many of the recommendations in the panel’s report will help us to achieve the goal of ending paramilitary activity.

I am sure the Secretary of State and the whole House will join me in wishing Northern Ireland and the green and white army all the very best in the Euros, which start this Friday. Indeed, I extend that to all the teams involved from the British Isles.

On a more serious note, on security, the threat level assessment of Irish-related terrorism was recently raised from “moderate” to “substantial” for Great Britain. Has the Secretary of State given further consideration to the calls to increase PSNI numbers by 1,000, as recommended by the Police Federation, and certainly to bring them up to the level recommended by Patten?

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments on the Northern Ireland football team and the other teams from the British Isles. I wish them well in the competition.

On the security situation, the Government of course support the efforts by the police, not just through the block grant but through the additional security funding, and further funding will be made available to tackle paramilitarism under the “Fresh Start” agreement. It is crucial that every effort be made in this area. The UK Government will continue to do all they can to support efforts to keep people in Northern Ireland safe and secure.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the panel set up under the “Fresh Start” agreement reported today on ways to tackle paramilitarism. Some of the recommendations fall within the remit of the Northern Ireland Office. Will she give an initial response to the report, and will she join me, the Northern Ireland Executive and all the parties in Northern Ireland committed to ensuring that the choice for people in Northern Ireland is now clear—either a democratic, peaceful way forward, or facing the courts and prosecution by the police?

I can certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman on those sentiments. It is a continuing tragedy that so many people in Northern Ireland are injured or murdered as a result of these brutal paramilitary-style assaults. My initial reaction to the panel’s report is to welcome it. I think it makes many good points, and I very much look forward to working with the Northern Ireland Executive as they develop their strategy in response to this important report.

Following on from that, yesterday’s panel report publication suggests that the PSNI has chosen to engage with some known terrorists rather than arrest them. How concerned is the Secretary of State about that assertion?

The panel makes reference to certain contacts that have taken place on an informal basis with some of these groupings. The panel’s report sets out a road map to seeing an end to those kinds of interactions. It is something that we shall work towards in the future because we do not want these organisations to exist any more.