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Security Situation: Northern Ireland

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2016

This is the 10th statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland and my first statement to Parliament as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. 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 Secretary of State for the Home Department, who updates the House separately.

In the six months since my predecessor’s last statement, the same small number of dissident republican terrorist groupings have continued their campaign of violence. Their support remains limited, despite their attempts to seek legitimacy in a wider society which continues to reject their use of violence. Dissident republican terrorists reject the peace process and the progress and benefits which it has brought to Northern Ireland.

The terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains unchanged at severe (an attack is highly likely). Most people are not affected by this threat, but where terrorism, paramilitary-style attacks and community attacks endure, so too will our efforts to tackle them. There will be no let-up in our efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds.

In Northern Ireland, these terrorists have targeted the brave people who serve the community day in, day out, including the police, prison officers and the military. Dissident republicans are relatively small, disparate and factional groupings, but they are also determined and have lethal intent. The last statement to this House highlighted the tragic death of prison officer Adrian Ismay, who was attacked and killed by dissident republicans. These attacks often also have potential to injure members of the public who live and work alongside the intended victims. There have been three further attempted attacks on security personnel since then in which, thankfully, no one was seriously injured.

Our strategic response

PSNI and MI5 are unstinting in their work to counter the threat of violence. Numerous dissident republican attacks have been prevented, often through vital support provided by members of the community. Since my predecessor last reported, PSNI has recovered a large amount of terrorist matériel in Northern Ireland including firearms, high explosives, chemicals and a range of improvised explosive devices. Continued close working with security partners in Ireland has resulted in further significant disruptions and I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána who have diligently pursued terrorists in Ireland with impressive effect. We are all safer for their efforts and because of the strong cross-border working relationship that exists on all security matters.

Similar joint working between PSNI and police in Great Britain led to the arrest and charge of an individual, living in Great Britain, with offences connected to dissident republican terrorism. This enabled the recovery of a significant amount of terrorist matériel in England linked to Northern Ireland-related terrorism. Legal proceedings are now under way. So far in Northern Ireland this year, there have been 103 arrests, 17 individuals charged under the Terrorism Act and five recent convictions linked to terrorist activity. There have been four national security attacks in comparison to 16 attacks in 2015 and 40 in 2010. Although there has been a reduction in the overall number of national security incidents so far this year, terrorist attack planning continues with lethal intent and capability as the murder of Adrian Ismay underlines. Vigilance in the face of this continuing threat remains essential.

This Government’s commitment to tackling Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains a high priority. This is supported through the provision of £160 million in this Parliament, of additional security funding to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to tackle the severe and enduring threat. On top of this, cross-Government spending on counter-terrorism will increase by 30% in real terms over this Parliament.

Great Britain threat level

The threat level to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism was raised in May to substantial (an attack is a strong possibility). Although dissident republicans are overwhelmingly focused on carrying out attacks in Northern Ireland, there remains a need to be alert, aware and vigilant.

Paramilitary activity

Paramilitary activity continues to undermine communities in Northern Ireland. Both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations carry out violent criminal attacks against people in their own communities. So far this year there have been six paramilitary-related deaths, 17 casualties of paramilitary-style shootings and 57 casualties of paramilitary-style assaults. These acts are cowardly, unjustified and damage communities. It is this Government’s clear view that paramilitary activity was never justified in the past and cannot be justified today.

Tackling paramilitary activity

This Government are strongly supporting efforts to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime in Northern Ireland. PSNI invests significant resources into both the prevention and investigation of paramilitary activity and we have pledged £25 million of funding through the Fresh Start agreement to help ensure that the relevant agencies are appropriately resourced to fulfil that commitment. Tackling paramilitary activity is an important step in terms of delivering Fresh Start agreement commitments and provides an opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.

The Northern Ireland Executive published an action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime in July 2016. This follows the paramilitary panel’s recommendations which provide for a strategic approach to the disbandment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, including improving criminal justice outcomes in terrorist cases. The Government are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity through a range of measures and securing faster and more effective outcomes in terrorism cases.

A joint agency taskforce, established under the Fresh Start agreement to enhance law enforcement co-operation, aimed at tackling organised crime and criminality including that linked to paramilitarism, brings together the expertise of law enforcement agencies involved in tackling organised crime gangs who seek to exploit the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. UK and Irish Governments’ Ministers have recently held positive talks to discuss co-operation between the An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in relation to the progress made by the joint agency taskforce.

The Independent Reporting Commission will be charged with reporting on progress towards ending paramilitary activity, including on implementation of measures taken by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government. The treaty between the UK Government and the Irish Government, formally establishing the IRC, was signed on 13 September 2016. We aim to have the IRC established by early 2017.

Conclusion

The severe level of threat from violent dissident republicans remains. Good progress has been made but there are still those who wish to attack police, prison and military officers, and some of Northern Ireland’s communities live under the constant threat of paramilitarism. Through the excellent work of PSNI, MI5 and security partners including An Garda Síochána, we will continue to bring those who would damage our society to justice, and protect our infrastructure and people from harm. I would like to thank them for their service to the people of Northern Ireland. There never has been, and there never will be any place for terrorism or paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. We must all play our part in ensuring that Northern Ireland continues to flourish, free of any such pernicious activity.

[HCWS324]