This is the 11th written statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland since the Independent Monitoring Commission concluded its work in July 2011. 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 10 months since my last statement, a small number of dissident republican terrorist groupings have continued their campaign of violence. They have planned attacks to murder people who work on a daily basis to serve the public. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have consistently demonstrated, through the democratic process, their desire for peace. They reject these groups and want a future free from violence. They recognise and value the increase in foreign direct investment, the enhanced job opportunities and the reduction in the number of victims of terror that has come about as a result of the peace process. Despite this overwhelming support for peace, dissident republican terrorists continue in their pursuit of violence.
The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland remains “Severe” (an attack is highly likely). Dissident republican terrorist groups have continued to attack officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), prison officers and members of the armed forces. There have been four attacks so far this year. In one sickening attack a police officer was shot at a busy petrol station in Belfast and sustained life changing injuries. These attacks, endanger the public and harm communities. In Great Britain, the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism is “Substantial” (an attack is a strong possibility).
Violent dissident republican terrorist groupings are fluid and they change regularly for a number of reasons. Firstly, the investigative effort of PSNI and MI5 have disrupted the activity of people and groupings who want to commit acts of terror in our community. Secondly, there is a desire for power amongst the individuals involved and this leads to fallouts and fractious relationships.
There will be no let-up in our efforts to pursue these small groups.
Our strategic response
As our Northern Ireland manifesto at the general election made clear, for this Government there are no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole. To this end we are providing £160 million of additional ring-fenced funding to support the PSNI’s work to tackle the Severe threat from terrorism during the current spending round, £25 million to tackle paramilitary activity; and a 30% real term increase in cross-Government spending on counter-terrorism.
MI5, which this month marks 10 years since it assumed responsibility from PSNI for national security intelligence, work in Northern Ireland continues to work hand in hand with PSNI, An Garda Siochana and other security partners in this task. Several dissident republican terrorist attacks have been prevented this year and PSNI have recovered a large amount of terrorist material—firearms, explosives and a range of improvised explosive devices—which has undoubtedly helped to keep communities safe.
In July, we saw the sentencing of Ciaran Maxwell, to 23 years in prison (the last five of which are to be served on license), for producing bombs and other munitions in Great Britain and Northern Ireland which were destined for use by dissident republican terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the police and other agencies in successfully bringing this case before the courts. This has undoubtedly saved lives and this significant jail sentence is an indication of the harm he posed.
As of 30 September 2017, in Northern Ireland, there have been 121 arrests and 6 individuals charged under the Terrorism Act this year. There have been four national security attacks, the same as the total number in 2016. This compares to a total of 16 attacks in 2015 and 40 in 2010. Although there has been a reduction in the number of national security incidents in recent years, terrorist attack planning continues with lethal intent and capability. Vigilance in the face of this continuing threat remains essential.
Tackling paramilitary activity
Paramilitary activity by both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations, continues to be a blight on the communities in which they operate. So far this year there have been two paramilitary related deaths, 19 casualties of paramilitary style shootings and 57 casualties of paramilitary style assaults. Paramilitary activity was never justified in the past and cannot be justified today. These people target the most vulnerable members of their communities. The stark reality is that they are not helping but instead exerting control and fear over them. The perpetrators are criminals who use the cloak of paramilitary activity to line their own pockets and impoverish communities.
The Government are strongly supporting ongoing efforts to tackle the scourge of paramilitarism and organised crime in Northern Ireland. Through the Fresh Start agreement, of November 2015 we are providing £25 million over five years to support a Northern Ireland Executive programme of activity. This resource is being matched by the Executive, giving a total of £50 million over five years—2016 to 2021. We are working closely with Executive Departments and their statutory partners to deliver commitments set out in the Executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime, to rid society of all forms of paramilitary activity and groups. Progress on the implementation of the Executive action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime will be monitored by the independent reporting commission (IRC), which was established under the Fresh Start agreement and legally constituted in August. The IRC’s overarching objective is to promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity, support long-term peace and stability and enable stable and inclusive devolved government in Northern Ireland.
Good progress has been made during the last year. Projects and interventions have been developed to provide mentoring support for young men; to promote lawfulness among young people; and to enable more women to become involved in community development work. An indictable cases process was implemented from May 2017 with the aim of speeding up the justice system in certain serious cases often linked to paramilitary groups. In addition to this, the PSNI has made significant progress with regard to the number of arrests and seizures from those involved in organised crime linked to paramilitary groups. It is now working with the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue & Customs through a co-located, dedicated paramilitary crime taskforce.
As of 26 September 2017, investigations have resulted in just under 100 arrests and 200 searches. Sixty-six people had been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service. Around £450,000 worth of criminal assets were seized or restrained including over £157,000 in cash. Drugs with an estimated street value of around £230,000, guns, ammunition and pipe bombs and other goods including a Range Rover and a number of mobile food stalls were all seized.
Significant progress have been made, but the Severe threat from violent dissident republican terrorist groups remains and we must be vigilant to this. There are still those who wish to murder public servants and commit acts of terror. Many people still live in fear of paramilitaries. Through the excellent work of PSNI, MI5 and security partners including An Garda Siochana, we will continue to bring those who seek to cause harm in our society to justice. I would like to thank everyone who works to protect the public for their ongoing service. There never has been, and there never will be, any place for terrorism or paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. We all must play our part in helping to rid Northern Ireland of this blight on our society, so that we can continue to build a brighter, more prosperous future and a stronger Northern Ireland for everyone.