New MI5 chief Andrew Parker vows to beat Northern Ireland's dissident thugs and killers
The new head of MI5 has warned dissident republicans in his first public statement that he and his organisation have them clearly in their sights.
In an unusually tough speech for the head of the intelligence service, the new MI5 Director General, Andrew Parker, said he would crack down hard on those intent on violence, calling them the "ragged remnants of a bygone age".
Intelligence sources say that his language, and the use of words such as "thugs", was most unusual and had a tone which would not have been used by former Director General, Sir Jonathan Evans whom he took over from in April of this year.
During the address to the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall yesterday, Mr Parker referred to the killing of prison officer David Black, the 52-year-old father of two who was shot dead as he drove to work on the M1 in Co Armagh on November 1.
Mr Black was the first prison warder killed by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland in 20 years.
Mr Parker said that MI5 is focused on the "darkest end".
"Various terrorist factions remain determined to kill people.
"We and the Police Service of Northern Ireland detect and disrupt the vast majority of their attempts," he said.
"But occasionally we are all stung with the tragedy of wanton murder, as we saw most recently with the shooting of David Black last November."
He continued his toughly worded speech by saying that those involved in violence have little support.
He said: "Rejecting the political process in Northern Ireland, these ragged remnants of a bygone age are in a cul-de-sac of pointless violence and crime with little community support.
"We will continue to work with the police to put these thugs and killers in front of the courts."
Mr Parker said terrorism in Northern Ireland is a central part of MI5's work.
He remarked that it still has to deal with continuing violence on "both sides".
The new intelligence chief said: "We have obviously seen enormous progress in re-building normality in Northern Ireland in the 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement, but we still have to deal with continuing incidents of violence on both sides."
Mr Parker's comments come after a series of security alerts which turned out to be elaborate hoaxes wreaked havoc across the city this week. Residents were forced to leave their homes and commuters were left frustrated as roads were closed and train services were cancelled.
Other areas of the speech included the ongoing threat from al- Qaida and how MI5 will continue to be able to get the information it needs to protect the UK as technology advances.
Mr Parker said MI5 needs to be able to read or listen to terrorists' communications to stop them.
"The converse to this would be to accept that terrorists should have means of communication that they can be confident are beyond the sight of MI5 or GCHQ acting with proper legal warrant," he said.
Mr Parker said understanding terrorists' capabilities gives the security service a "margin of advantage" – but warned that margin is "under attack" amid criticism over the reaches of GCHQ and other intelligence agencies.