This is the ninth statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland and the second statement to this Parliament. It covers the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism, rather than from international terrorism, which Members will be aware is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who updates the House separately.
In the six months since my statement on Northern Ireland’s security situation, the same, relatively small and fractured, violent dissident republican groupings have persisted with their campaign of violence. Their activities are against the democratically expressed wishes of the people in Northern Ireland. They continue to seek relevance and inflict harm on a society that overwhelmingly rejects them. Their support is very limited. Northern Ireland’s future will only be determined by democracy and consent. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5 work diligently to limit the threat these groups are able to pose. Because of these efforts the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s population are able to go about their daily lives untroubled by terrorism.
The terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland related terrorism remains “Severe” (an attack is highly likely) and the need for vigilance continues. Violent dissident republicans retain access to a wide variety of terrorist material including firearms, ammunition and improvised explosive devices and remain committed to an agenda of violence.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland, MI5 and their security partners continue to work tirelessly to counter the threat, often placing themselves at significant risk in order to keep people safe. Countless attacks are prevented in their early stages. So far this year, the PSNI have recovered terrorist items including firearms, ammunition and bomb-making equipment. There have been 59 arrests, of which, eight individuals have been charged for terrorist-related offences.
The lethal nature of the threat posed by terrorist groupings was demonstrated in March when prison officer Adrian Ismay died as a consequence of injuries he sustained when an improvised explosive device functioned under his vehicle as he left his Belfast home for work. Adrian Ismay’s death is first and foremost a tragedy for his family and friends. But it also serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing risks faced by prison officers, police officers and members of the armed forces, some of whom have been very fortunate to escape injury in other terrorist attacks, both on and off duty.
Violent dissident republicans continue to try to injure and murder PSNI officers, prison officers and members of the armed forces. The main focus of dissident republican violence continues to be in Northern Ireland. However, on 1 May, the Home Secretary announced that MI5 had increased their assessment of the threat level in Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism from “Moderate” (an attack is possible but not likely) to “Substantial” (an attack is a strong possibility). Violent dissident republicans have long aspired to carry out attacks in Great Britain to perpetuate their ongoing campaign of violence, and as a way to gain publicity for their wholly unjustifiable acts.
Republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations also regularly conduct brutal criminal assaults in an attempt to exert control over their communities. Between January and May of this year, there were 27 paramilitary-style attacks, three of which were fatal. It is unacceptable in Northern Ireland that there are still people who believe they are above the law. They are not and the PSNI is determined to pursue them and bring them to justice.
Our strategic response
Tackling terrorism, including Northern Ireland-related terrorism, is the highest priority for this Government. This Government’s first duty is to keep people safe and secure right across the United Kingdom. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that our security agencies, the police and others are equipped to deal with any threat we might face.
The strategic defence and security review made clear that we will maintain our investment in capabilities to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe. Over this Parliament, we will provide PSNI with £160 million of additional security funding to tackle the threat in Northern Ireland. Cross-Government spending on counter-terrorism as a whole will increase by 30% in real terms over this Parliament.
In the Republic of Ireland, An Garda Siochana (AGS) continue to play a significant role in countering the terrorist threat, having effected seizures of substantial amounts of explosives, ammunition and firearms. Joint working between PSNI, MI5 and the Garda remains crucial in the investigation and disruption of the violent dissident republican threat.
Tackling ongoing paramilitary activity
There was never any justification for paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, and there is none today. This is a central theme of the Fresh Start agreement of November 2015 between the UK Government, Northern Ireland’s main political parties and the Irish Government. It contains commitments to deal in a broadly based way with paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.
The independent panel report on the disbandment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland has shown there are individuals who use the real and perceived remnants of paramilitary structures to engage in serious criminality and violence, which can have a devastating effect on communities. In addition the assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, which was commissioned by the UK Government last autumn, judged that individual members of paramilitary groups with a legacy of violent activity, are engaged in organised crime and still represent a threat to national security.
A joint agency task force has been set up to enhance existing efforts to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime and the Executive is developing an action plan to tackle paramilitary activity, in response to the recent recommendations made by the panel. By the end of 2016, we also intend to establish an independent reporting commission which will report on progress to tackle ongoing paramilitary activity.
The “Severe” level of threat in Northern Ireland from violent dissident republicans will continue in the near future, and further potentially lethal attacks are highly likely. However, the PSNI, MI5 and An Garda Siochana will continue their outstanding work, exerting every effort to disrupt attacks and prosecute those responsible. I would like to thank them all for the work they do. Under this Government there will be no let-up in our efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds.