The threat of Islamic terrorists striking in Northern Ireland is a primary reason why control of national security matters in the region must remain at Westminster, Shaun Woodward has insisted.
Explaining why responsibility for MI5 will continue to be controlled by Westminster when the devolution of other law and order powers to Stormont takes place, the Secretary of State said the possibility of al-Qaida targeting the region had to be considered.
While stressing there was no current intelligence suggesting an attack was imminent, Mr Woodward said that as a part of the UK it was vulnerable.
“It's inconceivable that the very threats that are experienced in Great Britain or indeed in the Republic of Ireland won't also be threats here in Northern Ireland,” he told MLAs at Stormont.
“And to imagine that they couldn't be or wouldn't be, and to take no precautions on that basis, would be very foolish.”
Mr Woodward said national security in the region was no longer just about tackling the threat from home-grown paramilitaries, and as such it had to be dealt with by the British Government in terms of the overall threat to the UK.
Outlining a new protocol that will define the links between Stormont and Whitehall on the issues, he insisted that the region's new Justice Minister would be informed by the Secretary of State's department about matters that related to Northern Ireland.
Acknowledging that some people in the region still viewed the security services with distrust as a result of operations during the Troubles, he told the Assembly and Executive Review committee all national security decisions taken would be accountable.
“I recognise there is a complex history which has different connotations to different people in respect of matters of national security in Northern Ireland and while I would be the first to say the security services have played a very important role in protecting the lives of many people in Northern Ireland there of course have been errors in the past.
“These errors of course have been on all sides, we can all point to pain and regret but I understand the suspicion that nonetheless there may be.
“Therefore in relation to the present and to the future let us be clear: the Secretary of State and Home Secretary are both responsible and accountable to parliament and this protocol contains a presumption for communication and the structure implied only points in that single direction.”
Mr Woodward said in a bid to instill confidence in the structures, an independent reviewer would be appointed to scrutinise national security decisions taken in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State said that while a threat from dissident republicans remained, the national security concerns in Northern Ireland were much broader.