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Volume 618: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2016

Yesterday, I laid before the House the 10th biannual statement to Parliament on the security situation in Northern Ireland. The terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland remains unchanged at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The need for vigilance remains, and I pay tribute to the brave men and women who work tirelessly to keep communities safe.

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), for meeting me recently, when I was able to tell him about my constituent. I understand that the Secretary of State is unable to discuss that individual case, but does he agree that any security review must take account of such legacy cases?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know that she has met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to discuss the issue. The approach to individual cases is clearly the operational responsibility of the police, but I agree that we must find a better way to investigate legacy cases. The requirement for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to investigate the past puts pressure on its ability to police the present. That is why I remain committed to moving ahead with the Stormont House legacy bodies, which I believe will provide a much more proportionate response to the need to get to those issues.

The Secretary of State will be aware of recent footage that has emerged of dissident republicans, heavily armed and carrying rocket launchers, in Ardoyne, part of north Belfast, near where Michael McGibbon was murdered recently. It was a scandalous and appalling display. Does the Secretary of State agree that the police, who have been very quick to arrest and charge people for very minor breaches of parading legislation, really need to get a grip on those kinds of displays and arrest and pursue people, because the people in these communities absolutely do not want those kinds of displays of paramilitary activity?

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. The video is utterly repugnant. In my statement yesterday, I pointed out that support for such dissident groups

“remains limited, despite their attempts to seek legitimacy in a wider society which continues to reject their use of violence.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 12WS.]

That contemptible video was intended to be a show of strength, but I see it as a sign of weakness, and it is important that the PSNI continues its investigations.

I agree with the Secretary of State and commend the widow of Michael McGibbon, who has spoken so bravely against these people, and who has, unfortunately, been forced out of her home. Her words are a ringing endorsement of the peace process and the political process in Northern Ireland. On tackling dissidents, the cross-border joint agency taskforce, set up under the “Fresh Start” agreement, is doing great work. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State updated us on the work that it is doing to tackle dissident republicans and other criminal gangs.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to mention the very brave testimony of Joanne McGibbon. Our thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones to terrorism. This House should continue to send out that strong and important message. The joint agency taskforce, which brings together different agencies to confront organised criminality and those linked to terrorism, is doing very good work, and we need to do more of it.

Given that the threat level in Northern Ireland is still severe, is the Secretary of State satisfied with the level of intelligence sharing in the Province?

Some very good work is taking place among our agencies in Northern Ireland, as well as those in the Republic of Ireland. That is in a stronger position. Of course, there is still room for further improvement, but significant seizures of arms and weaponry have been made as a consequence of that work. It is important to underline that.

My constituent, Austin Hunter, was an outstanding journalist who covered the security situation in Northern Ireland for many years. He was not only a brilliant journalist and a great family man, but a remarkably fine man in his own right. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to join me—and colleagues from across the House who will have known Austin Hunter as a distinguished journalist in Northern Ireland—in sending condolences to his family, who are absolutely devastated by his death in a tragic traffic accident in Bahrain over the weekend?

I thank the hon. Lady for that. Although I did not have the privilege of meeting Austin Hunter, I know, from all the powerful testimony that I have heard, not only that he was an incredible journalist, but how warm and human he was. It was a tragic accident, and I join the hon. Lady in sending my condolences to his friends and family, and everyone who knew him. He clearly made a remarkable contribution, and he will be missed by so many.

People who give information to the police about terrorist activities have saved many lives in the past, and continue to do so today. Is it not entirely wrong to claim, as some groups do in Northern Ireland, that any case that involves an agent somehow also involves police misconduct?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct that we save lives as a consequence of the support of people in communities, often at great personal cost. That should be recognised, in terms of some of the really powerful intelligence that is provided and the impact that it has.

I congratulate the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other security agencies on stopping a number of terrorist attacks. Would the Secretary of State give us some information on whether dissident terrorists are still recruiting and increasing in numbers in Northern Ireland?

As the hon. Gentleman will have seen in my written statement yesterday, there is an enduring threat from terrorism, which is why I underlined the need for vigilance. Support for those terrorists remains limited, but we must continue to be aware and confront it in every way, which is why I pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the successes that have been achieved. Equally, however, we must remain absolutely focused on security issues, which underlines the points that I made in yesterday’s statement.

12. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that service personnel, who put their lives on the line for our security on a daily basis, including former paratrooper Lance Corporal J, who was arrested and questioned in November last year, or other former members of the Parachute Regiment who had to go to the High Court to battle against detention and extradition, should not face legal reprisals, which may be taken for political reasons? (907650)

I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I cannot comment on individual cases. I will be unswerving and unstinting in underlining the huge contribution of our armed forces in helping to bring about the peace that we enjoy today. Part of that is the rule of law. Where there is evidence of criminality, it is important that the rule of law is upheld, but I know very clearly the incredible contribution that many members of our armed forces have made.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the prospect of a hard border would provide opportunities for organised crime and would cause additional problems for the security services, including police services? Does he therefore agree that it is essential that Brexit does not result in a hard border?

The hon. Lady has heard me say on a number of occasions that I do not want a return to the borders of the past. Part of that, yes, is about the politics, but it is also about how we ensure that that continued good relationship between us and the Irish Government is maintained, and security is a key factor in that.