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Dissident republican activity declining but threat still remains, says report

A review of the security situation in Northern Ireland said police and prison officers remained ‘legitimate targets’ for dissident republicans.

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Brian Barker QC is the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Brian Barker QC is the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Brian Barker QC is the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Dissident republican activity in Northern Ireland diminished last year due to pressure from the security forces and changes in society brought about by Covid, a new report has found.

The Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland also said, however, that the threat from dissident republican and loyalist paramilitary groups remains.

Retired judge Brian Barker QC, who has responsibility for reviewing the relationship between MI5 and PSNI in handling national security matters in Northern Ireland, has delivered his annual report to Parliament.

Dissident republican activity during the year was somewhat reduced due to enforced life pattern changes and continuing pressure from the security forces, as their leadership took stockBrian Barker QC

He said: “2020 was a most difficult year, overtaken by, and then submerged under, the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The dominant focus faced by the community throughout was to cope with the uncertainties of lockdowns, and the consequences of the unpredictable spread of the pandemic; a combination that led to considerable unforeseen pressures and understandable anxieties in all quarters.”

He continued: “Dissident republican activity during the year was somewhat reduced due to enforced life pattern changes and continuing pressure from the security forces, as their leadership took stock.

“The number of incidents fell slightly compared to 2019.

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“The overall picture in this area, sadly, had changed little.

“The threat from both dissident republican groups and loyalist paramilitaries remained, and some areas of the community continued to be subject not only to terrorist activities but also to unacceptable criminal acts and attitudes at a level which has almost come to be regarded by many as normal.

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The report said there were a number of high profile court appearances for terrorist offences (Liam McBurney/PA)

The report said there were a number of high profile court appearances for terrorist offences (Liam McBurney/PA)

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The report said there were a number of high profile court appearances for terrorist offences (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Nevertheless, a number of operations were successfully concluded and were marked with high profile court appearances of senior participants and the imposition of significant sentences.

“A major success was the coordinated arrest in mid-August of 10 individuals who have since been charged with a variety of terrorist offences following a long running and carefully co-ordinated joint operation between MI5 and the PSNI.

“Incarceration of key individuals will be a serious blow to dissident republican operations with the resulting loss of leadership and planning capability.”

Mr Barker said his meetings with senior members of MI5 and PSNI were restricted to virtual contact, but said it was apparent that effective co-operation had “gone up a level”.

He said: “The dire circumstances faced by the PSNI on the ground, coping externally with administering changing regulations and internally with infection and shielding, had required a change in posture; but adaptation had been impressive and results and control overall had been encouraging.

Police and prison officers continued to be regarded as legitimate targets and still had to face unacceptable risksBrian Barker QC

“The decrease in activity had led to a sharp decline in arrests under terrorism legislation, compared with the previous year, but there had been an increase in the recovery of ammunition and explosives.

“The traditional marching events, following leadership advice and public appeals, were severely curtailed.”

The report said that during the 2019/20 financial year, the powers of stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000 were not exercised.

There were 179 premises searched under warrant, 128 persons detained, 17 persons were charged with a total of 39 offences including two charges of murder, one charge of attempted murder, 15 charges of firearms offences, eight charges of drug offences and six charges of explosive offences.

The report said in the period total of 26 persons were disposed of by non-jury trial, 18 of whom were found guilty of at least one charge.

A total of 13 non-jury trial certificates were issued by the DPP.

There were a total of 14 people convicted in the Crown Court under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Mr Barker concluded: “The two major dissident republican groups undoubtedly suffered severe setbacks in what was a very successful year for the security forces.

“The danger remained of some sort of reactive show of strength, which fortunately did not materialise; and the minor groups continued to maintain a low profile.

“Police and prison officers continued to be regarded as legitimate targets and still had to face unacceptable risks.

“In pockets of the community intimidation continued, and although the figures for paramilitary shootings and beatings dropped, it continued to be concerning.”


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