Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Security threat 'severe' as dissidents agitate for a kill

Weapons of war: gardai display arms recovered recently in a raid on dissidents in Dublin

The latest assessment of the Northern Ireland security situation has been published, with minimal fanfare; one of dozens of ministerial statements pushed out in the three days before the Commons went into summer recess.

A bi-annual statement to parliament from the Secretary of State on security was established after the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) was wound up in 2011.

Theresa Villiers says the threat level in Northern Ireland remains at "severe" – meaning that an attack is highly likely. However, there is cause for hope in her statement.

Over seven years, the IMC recorded 21 paramilitary murders and more than 800 "reported casualties of paramilitary violence".

In its final report, two years ago, the commission said dissident republicans were "brutally active, especially against members of the PSNI, who are at greater threat than they were in 2004 when we first reported."

Last week, Mrs Villiers reported there were 24 "national security attacks" during 2012, compared to 26 in 2011. So far this year, there have been 10 attacks.

In spite of the lethal intent of groups like the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann, police on both sides of the border are doing a good job of bearing down on the dissidents.

Police, soldiers and prison officers continue to be the primary target of the terrorists. In the past few months, there have been several pipe-bomb attacks on PSNI officers.

Mrs Villiers also reported to MPs that the UDA and UVF leadership remain committed to their ceasefires. But paramilitary-style 'punishment' beatings and shootings "continued, with involvement by both republican and loyalist groups".

It has been a tough year for the PSNI. Major public order challenges over the flags protests and during the Twelfth have overshadowed their successes.

The G8 summit passed without significant incident, as did President Obama's visit to Belfast.

In March, the PSNI intercepted a mortar in Londonderry moments before it was deployed.

Meanwhile, dissidents continue to be funded by a range of criminal activity, including fuel laundering, smuggling, drug dealing, robbery and extortion.

Perhaps allowing the National Crime Agency – referred to as 'Britain's FBI' – to operate fully in Northern Ireland might be more effective. There are strong arguments for and against bringing the NCA into operation here.

Thanks to devolution, it is a decision that can only be made at Stormont – not Whitehall.

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