Following the decision by the UK and Irish Governments to wind up the Independent Monitoring Commission in 2011, my predecessor made a commitment to provide bi-annual updates to the House on the security situation in Northern Ireland. This is my second such statement as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Overall threat in Northern Ireland
This statement comes after a very successful G8 summit in Northern Ireland that passed without significant incident. This is an achievement of which we should all be proud. Nevertheless we remain vigilant in the face of the continuing threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland.
We are currently at the height of the parading season in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, rioting has once again broken out in connection with 12 July parades. As well as causing damage and injury directly, such disorder also potentially provides opportunities for terrorist attacks on police, as illustrated by the pipe bomb thrown at the police on Monday from Brompton Park in Ardoyne.
Since my last statement to Parliament in February 2013, the threat level in Northern Ireland has remained at “Severe”. This means that an attack remains highly likely.
There were 24 national security attacks during 2012, compared with 26 attacks in 2011. So far this year there have been 10 national security attacks. Some of these involve the use of relatively simple and basic pipe-bomb devices, but these can be lethal. There have also been a number of more sophisticated attacks, including two failed attempts to use mortars against PSNI stations. Many more attacks were prevented and disrupted through the excellent work of the PSNI and their security partners.
I would like to congratulate and thank the PSNI and the security service for their highly effective work in countering the threat from terrorism.
Police officers, soldiers and prison officers continue to be the primary target of the terrorist groups. This was illustrated by an attempt last week to lure police officers to a house in Alliance avenue in North Belfast where two pipe bombs had been primed to go off to kill anyone who opened the front door. A similar attempted attack took place in May when two PSNI officers were shot at when responding to a reported burglary in west Belfast near Twinbrook and a pipe bomb was thrown at them. Were it not for effective deployment of the training all PSNI officers receive on dealing with this kind of “come on” attack, these incidents could well have had fatal consequences.
Another device near the M5 at Newtownabbey could have fatally injured the three police officers who attended the incident.
There was a serious risk with all of these attacks that people in the local community could have been injured or killed, as well as police officers.
One of the most significant incidents of the past 6 months was an attempted mortar attack on a Londonderry PSNI station in March. It was aimed at murdering police officers but such devices are highly dangerous and inaccurate. This attack could have caused mass casualties amongst anyone who happened to be in the vicinity if it had been successfully fired. This provided further evidence that so-called dissident republican groups have no regard to the people living in the areas which they target. It was only through the highly effective work of the PSNI that this attack was disrupted as it was underway.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland and the security service, along with An Garda Siochana, continue to demonstrate a robust commitment to bringing to justice those who carry out such attacks.
Northern Ireland has already witnessed a historic year with the G8 summit in Fermanagh and the accompanying visit by the President of the United States to Belfast. The successful delivery of these events would not have been possible without the co-operation of the PSNI, security service, An Garda Siochana and police forces from across the UK who came to Northern Ireland to provide mutual aid support. Despite recent public order problems, this year contains further opportunities to present a positive image to the world, with events associated with the Derry-Londonderry city of culture and world police and fire games.
Those who dedicate themselves to making Northern Ireland a safer place will continue to work together to ensure that these events pass off successfully and without incident.
Activity of republican paramilitary groups
The so-called “new IRA” continues to contribute significantly to the threat in Northern Ireland. They have conducted one national security attack—the brutal murder of prison officer David Black in November last year.
That they have only conducted one attack is at least in part down to the achievements of the security forces. As mentioned earlier, in March of this year PSNI successfully intercepted a mortar in Londonderry moments before it was deployed. In April, a young member of this grouping was caught in possession of five handguns and in June the PSNI recovered a quantity of high explosive. These disruptions serve to prevent specific attacks while also demonstrating to potential terrorists across Northern Ireland the reach of the security services.
The efforts of the PSNI has been ably supported by An Garda Siochana. In March, An Garda Siochana arrested five persons following the shooting dead of Peter Butterly in a car park near Drogheda, County Louth. Three of the men were subsequently charged with membership of an unlawful organisation, namely the IRA. In the same month, eight men were arrested in connection with terrorist activities and have also been charged with membership of an unlawful organisation. In recent weeks, An Garda Siochana recovered their biggest ever find of dissident arms and explosives including approximately 15 kg of Semtex. This is a significant find which has undoubtedly saved lives.
Despite these successes for the security forces, this grouping continues to try to develop its capability. Its lethal intent and disregard for the wishes and safety of the wider community means that it remains a high priority for the PSNI and their security partners.
Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) has been very active over this period and has demonstrated increased lethal intent, including IED, shooting and pipe-bomb attacks on PSNI officers in the Belfast area. In March the group was responsible for a failed mortar attack against New Barnsley PSNI station in north Belfast, as well as a large vehicle-borne IED which was abandoned in County Fermanagh. Fortunately the group has had only limited success; if the devices been deployed and functioned as intended, they would almost certainly have resulted in injuries or fatalities.
Continuity IRA (CIRA) has splintered into several competing factions. These groups continue to be dangerous. Over the last six months they have been responsible for a shooting attack against PSNI officers in Craigavon as well as multiple hoax devices. These hoaxes are extremely disruptive to the community with families evacuated from their homes and suffering from a range of disturbances on an all too regular basis.
Groups involved in these terrorist attacks continue to engage in a range of criminal activity including fuel laundering, smuggling, drug dealing, robbery and extortion.
The threat level in Great Britain remains at “Moderate”, which means an attack is possible but not likely. We recognise, however, that dissident republican terrorists continue in their aspiration to conduct an attack in Great Britain. All threat levels are, of course, kept under constant review.
Activity of loyalist paramilitary groups
As noted in my last statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland, the UDA and UVF leadership remain committed to their ceasefires, although individuals associated with these groups continue to be engaged in criminal activity.
Paramilitary-style shootings and assaults
Throughout this period, paramilitary style attacks continued with involvement by both republican and loyalist groups. These attacks, which include beatings, shootings and even murder, continue to cause significant and irreparable harm to families on both sides of the community.
The Government continue to offer their full support to the PSNI to ensure that they have the capability they need to tackle the threat. The Government recently confirmed that the PSNI will receive an additional £31 million funding in 2015-16 to tackle the threat faced from terrorism in Northern Ireland. That funding package extends the £199.5 million of support provided to the PSNI by this Government in 2011. The ongoing provision of £31 million in security funding for the PSNI is part of the Government’s continuing strategy to maintain pressure on the terrorists to make Northern Ireland a safer place for everyone.
Co-operation across Government and agencies has been strengthened by the working arrangements around the G8 summit, including even stronger links with Irish counterparts. I hope that these new relationships can provide a sound basis on which to further enhance our work on tackling the threat faced in Northern Ireland. Cross-border co-operation with An Garda Siochana remains strong and they continue to work with PSNI to ensure that those who exploit the border for criminality and terrorism are bought to justice. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the role of An Garda Siochana in ensuring a successful, safe and secure G8 summit. I keep in very close contact with the Northern Ireland Justice Minster, David Ford, and the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD.
There have been some striking successes for Northern Ireland this year, not least of which is the G8. The Government are committed to building on that success. However, the significant public disorder that has occurred on and around 12 July provides an illustration of some of the continuing policing and security challenges in Northern Ireland.
We remain fully committed to tackling the threat from terrorism and keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.