This is the twelfth written statement to Parliament on the security situation in Northern Ireland since the Independent Monitoring Commission concluded its work in July 2011. It covers the security situation and 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 13 months since the last statement on Northern Ireland’s security situation, a small number of violent dissident republican terrorist groups have continued to pursue a campaign of violence. Violent dissident republican terrorists are relatively small, disparate groupings. They remain intent on killing and undermining the will of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland who have repeatedly and consistently expressed their desire for peace. These groupings choose to pay no heed to this and continue to plan attacks with the purpose of murdering and maiming those who work on a daily basis to uphold the rule of law and protect the whole community. In attempting to impose their unwanted control on people across Northern Ireland, these groupings also choose to ignore democracy, principles that have been, and will continue to be, central to the political process in Northern Ireland.
In 2016, dissident republican terrorists murdered prison officer Adrian Ismay while in 2017 they again demonstrated their lethal intent, including one attack where a petrol station forecourt was sprayed with gunfire and two police officers were wounded. There have been two attempts to murder police officers since the last written statement, with numerous other plots identified and prevented by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5. These included shots fired at police officers during rioting in Londonderry in July of this year. This incident, like many dissident republican terrorist attacks, posed a risk to members of the public in the immediate area as well as the police officers who were targeted while they were working to keep communities safe.
I wish to pay tribute to all the agencies, including the PSNI, MI5 and the bomb disposal teams, who work on a daily basis to keep people safe. In many cases their work can make them the target of dissident republican terrorists. I applaud the work they do across Northern Ireland, their professionalism and the personal sacrifices that so many of them make in support of this vital work. I also commend the work undertaken by An Garda Siochana, and the excellent relationship they have with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. This has had a significant impact on dealing with the threat. The commitment of such a wide variety of agencies to public service and to the communities they serve, stands in stark contrast to the acts of dissident republicans.
While terrorist attack planning continues, law enforcement pressure has reduced the number of national security attacks. Since the start of 2018 there has been one national security attack, compared to five in 2017, four in 2016 and a total of 16 attacks in 2015 and 40 in 2010. Although there has been a reduction in the overall number of national security attacks in recent years, vigilance in the face of this continuing threat remains essential and the threat level remains
Since October 2017, MI5 has identified a number of violent dissident republican attack plots; two attacks were attempted, but were ultimately unsuccessful, and others were disrupted. This success is in no small measure due to the continued close working between PSNI and MI5, as well as with the authorities in Ireland. Each of the main violent dissident republican groups has suffered significant disruption including the loss of personnel and weapons in the past 12 months. During the past 12 month period (1 October 2017-30 September 2018) in Northern Ireland, there have been 143 arrests under the Terrorism Act, with 16 people subsequently charged. During the same period, 45 firearms, 0.74kg of explosives and 3157 rounds of ammunition have been seized. This pressure, and other interventions, is a barrier to, and a brake on dissident republican activity of all kinds, although I assess that, in the coming months, dissident republican terrorist groups will continue to seek to attack officers from the PSNI, prison officers and members of the armed forces.
As a consequence of violent dissident republicans’ actions and intent, the threat from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism in Northern Ireland remains SEVERE, which means an attack is highly likely. In Great Britain, the threat from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism was reduced in March this year from SUBSTANTIAL to MODERATE, which means an attack is possible, but not likely.
The Government have consistently made it clear that terrorism, including Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, will not succeed and tackling it continues to be of the highest priority. We are determined to keep people safe and secure across the United Kingdom. To support this effort over this Parliament we have provided £160 million of additional security funding to the PSNI to tackle the enduring threat from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism. This is significant funding. They recognise the severity of the terrorist threat; it demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the brave men and women in the police and intelligence agencies, and it is helping to keep people safe.
Paramilitary groups, both republican and loyalist, continue to carry out violent criminal attacks against members of their own communities. So far this year there have been 64 such attacks. This includes one paramilitary related death, 16 casualties of paramilitary style shootings and 47 casualties of paramilitary style assaults. The hypocrisy of paramilitary-linked criminals claiming to act to defend their communities from anti-social behaviour and drug dealing, while at the same time profiting from this activity is not lost on affected communities. They are targeting the most vulnerable members in their communities as they try to exert control and fear.
This Government continue strongly to support ongoing efforts to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime in Northern Ireland through the delivery of the commitments made in the executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. This work is, by design, a collaborative endeavour being taken forward by a partnership of more than 24 organisations, including executive departments, statutory bodies and voluntary and community sector partners. Delivery is being achieved through four connected and mutually reinforcing approaches, aimed at developing long term prevention measures; building confidence in the justice system; building capacity to support communities in transition; and putting in place the strategies and powers to tackle criminal activity. Supporting the move away from paramilitary activity and promoting a culture of lawfulness are key underpinning 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. The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) is charged with reporting on progress towards ending paramilitary activity, and its first report was published on 23 October 2018.
In the last year significant progress has been made. For example, key initiatives already making a difference include outreach programmes aimed at supporting young people in areas particularly vulnerable to paramilitary activity; a programme delivering mentoring support for young men; and one for women aimed at building their capacity to be involved in community transformation. Work also continues on the speeding up justice programme, and the PSNI is working with communities to implement training and interventions in collaborative problem solving, as well as local initiatives to address issues of visibility and engagement. Young people have also been taking part in a programme on lawfulness being run by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, and a number of other pilot projects on the theme of promoting a culture of lawfulness are being delivered by a range of partners.
In addition, since the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, which comprises the PSNI, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), became fully operational in 2017, it has carried out a number of high profile operations against organised crime groups linked to paramilitaries. During 2017-18 the Task Force carried out over 110 searches and made over 47 arrests, including 44 people charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service. In addition, 21 paramilitary-related organised crime groups were frustrated, disrupted or dismantled.
In conclusion, the SEVERE threat from dissident republican terrorists remains and paramilitary activity continues to have an impact in certain communities in Northern Ireland. Considerable progress has been made but the need for vigilance remains. There are a relatively small number of people who wish to continue to commit acts of terror and who want to control communities through violence for their own criminal ends. Through the excellent work of PSNI, MI5 and other law enforcement agencies including An Garda Siochana, we will continue to bring to justice those who seek to cause harm in our society. 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 so that we can continue to allow Northern Ireland to flourish and ensure a stronger Northern Ireland for everyone free from this harmful and malign activity.