Following the joint 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 first such statement as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Overall threat in Northern Ireland
Since the statement in July 2012, 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, there have been three national security attacks in 2013. A majority of attacks have involved the use of crude, but potentially lethal, pipe-bomb devices; there were also a number of more sophisticated and serious attacks.
The cowardly murder of prison officer David Black, in November 2012, by a group referred to as the “new IRA” was a brutal reminder of the continuing threat posed by dissident republican terrorists. They continue to target police officers, soldiers and prison officers. Yet these are also attacks on the wider community causing disruption and discomfort to the daily lives of many people.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Security Service, along with An Garda Síochána (AGS), continue to demonstrate a robust commitment to bringing to justice those who carry out attacks. Across the island of Ireland 173 arrests and 64 charges were made during 2012. There were also 18 convictions of individuals involved in planning and participating in attacks. Many more attacks were prevented and disrupted.
During 2013, Northern Ireland has a great opportunity to showcase itself through events such as the G8 summit, world police and fire games, and Derry-Londonderry city of culture. The PSNI, the Security Service, and AGS will continue working together to ensure these events happen safely and successfully. PSNI has a wealth of experience at managing large events and will also be able to call for assistance from police services in Great Britain where necessary, particularly with regard to the G8 summit.
In October 2012, the threat level from Northern Ireland related terrorism in GB was reduced from “substantial” to “moderate”. The Security Service reached this assessment on the basis of current intelligence, although it recognises that dissident republican terrorists continue to aspire to conduct attacks in GB. All threat levels are, of course, kept under review.
Activity of republican paramilitary groups
New IRA—In July 2012, a number of disparate groups came together to form an organisation generally referred to as the “new IRA”. This new grouping primarily consists of members of the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (which conducts brutal shootings against nationalist members of the community) and a number of unaffiliated individuals who we believe have connections to the fatal attack against Massereene barracks in 2009. This group has already demonstrated its lethal intent, claiming responsibility for the murder of David Black last November. The group also conducted an unsuccessful attack in September 2012, in which it attached a bomb to a bicycle as part of a trap to kill police in Londonderry. It has, however, also suffered setbacks. For example, on 6 December 2012 a number of individuals were arrested and charged after being found in possession of an explosively formed projectile capable of penetrating armoured vehicles.
Continuity IRA—This group is dangerous and continues to conduct attack planning. In late January, Continuity IRA (CIRA) claimed responsibility for a shooting attack against police officers in Lurgan, though nobody was injured.
Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) has also continued to be active over the past six months. We judge that this group is responsible for two attempted under vehicle car-bomb attacks since December 2012. Fortunately none of these were successful. Had they exploded they would almost certainly have been fatal for anyone in the vicinity, potentially including families and young children. Most recently, we believe that ONH were responsible for throwing a pipe bomb which struck a PSNI vehicle in north Belfast on 30 January.
All of these groups remain heavily involved in criminality, in particular fuel laundering and smuggling, but also drugs, robbery and extortion.
Activity of loyalist paramilitary groups
The leaderships of the main loyalist paramilitary organisations, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), remain committed to their ceasefires. While individuals associated with the UVF were involved in recent loyalist public disorder, the PSNI do not believe that this was sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Both the UDA and the UVF have endorsed calls for an end to the public disorder. Both groups do, however, remain involved in organised crime, including smuggling and other criminal activity.
During the public disorder over 140 police officers were injured. To date there have been more than 170 arrests and over 125 charges. We shall continue to do all we can to support the PSNI in policing the protests and bringing those involved in public disorder and other illegal activities to justice.
Paramilitary style shootings and assaults
Both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continue to carry out paramilitary style assaults—so-called “punishment attacks”—by which they seek to intimidate whole communities. Within the communities affected there is, rightly, widespread revulsion against such activities.
I meet regularly the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, and the chief constable, Matt Baggott, to discuss the terrorist threat. The Government continue to offer its full support to the PSNI. We are currently examining future funding needs when the current £200 million security package that the Government agreed in 2011 expires in March 2015.
I will also be working with the Minister of Justice, the chief constable and colleagues in Whitehall to ensure the people of Northern Ireland receive the best possible protection against international crime. These include activities such as child abuse and human trafficking. The Government were extremely disappointed at the decision by the Northern Ireland Executive not to pursue a legislative consent motion for the operation of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland. We do, however, remain willing to consider proposals by the Executive which would amend the arrangements for the National Crime Agency to reflect Northern Ireland’s specific circumstances.
Cross-border co-operation with our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland remains excellent. AGS has made a significant number of arrests in recent months as a result of its own investigations into republican paramilitary activity. This has undoubtedly saved lives. AGS continues to work tirelessly to bring those involved in criminality and terrorism to justice. I speak frequently to the Irish Justice Minister, Alan Shatter.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to PSNI Constable Philippa Reynolds, who died in the service of her community on 8 February, and offer my condolences to her family. I would also like to place on record my condolence to the family of Garda Adrian Donohoe who was murdered by criminals operating across the border on 25 January. Both Constable Reynolds and Garda Donohoe died as they worked, to keep people safe in the communities they served.
It is clear from the violence carried out by both republican and loyalist groups that there are still people in Northern Ireland who demonstrate contempt for democracy and the rule of law. Their numbers remain small, but the threat they pose continues to be very real. While these groupings enjoy virtually no public support, sectarianism and division can fuel grievances on which they will seek to capitalise. There is a responsibility on local politicians and community leaders to work together to address sectarianism and build a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland. For our part, this Government remain fully committed to tackling the threat from terrorism and keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.