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Northern Ireland-Related Terrorism: ISC Report

Volume 681: debated on Monday 5 October 2020

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has today laid before Parliament a report of the former Committee on Northern Ireland-related terrorism, looking at the key challenges faced by MI5 and others in tackling the threat posed by dissident republican (DR) groups in Northern Ireland.

The current security situation in Northern Ireland (NI) is in no way comparable to the troubles. However, DR and loyalist paramilitary groups continue to be a feature of life and the threat in NI from DR groups remains unchanged at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. DRs reject the 1998 Belfast agreement and consider the use of violence a legitimate tool. Despite significant pressure from the police and security forces, demonstrated by the recent arrests targeting the New IRA, the terrorist threat they pose is enduring, and there remains a minority who aim to destabilise the peace process, harming communities across NI.

The DR threat is, however, just one part of the wider security picture in NI. The lines are often blurred between those involved in terrorist activity, paramilitary activity, and organised crime. In one way or another, these groups exert control over and exploit those communities for their own criminal ends. To achieve lasting peace in NI these threats cannot be dealt with in isolation.

The Government welcome the Committee’s conclusions on the importance of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) and in particular the strong endorsement that it is sometimes necessary to authorise CHIS to participate in criminal conduct. This is a long-standing tactic which is vital for national security and the prevention and detection of crime. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill introduced to Parliament on 24 September, and which has its Second Reading in the House of Commons today, provides an express power for the authorisation of criminal conduct, providing certainty to public authorities using this critical tool. The Bill makes clear that a criminal conduct authorisation can only be authorised where strictly necessary and proportionate to do so, and is subject to robust oversight including by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

I welcome this report and thank the Committee for the work that has gone into it. The Government will consider the report in full and respond formally in due course.