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Evaluating threat posed by terrorists is not my job: Justice Minister Naomi Long

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Committee meeting: Naomi Long

Committee meeting: Naomi Long

Committee meeting: Naomi Long

Justice minister Naomi Long has said it is not her responsibility to assess terrorist threats.

Mrs Long was speaking during a meeting of the justice committee at Stormont yesterday, two weeks after PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne was quizzed on the matter by the same MLAs.

On that occasion Mr Byrne directed questions about an assessment of the IRA to the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office.

He told members: "The status of the Provisional IRA is not for me to comment on."

DUP committee member Paul Frew said the same question was previously put in the Assembly chamber to Mrs Long, who told MLAs it was not a matter for her to comment on.

When asked yesterday whether she still stood by that view, she replied that she could not "give a running commentary on the Chief Constable's answers".

Mrs Long added: "It is not my job to assess whether organisations are active or inactive.

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"It is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office to make that assessment."

She told Mr Frew she would be meeting with new Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis "to establish if he intends to make any fresh assessment" about the status of the IRA.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers published the last assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland in 2015.

Mrs Long earlier told the committee that more work needed to be done within communities to "stop young people from getting involved with paramilitarism".

She plans to introduce new legislation aimed at cracking down on criminal finances and unexplained wealth.

"I want to ensure that criminals don't enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains," she said.

The minister also welcomed the "heartening start" to the PSNI's recruitment campaign, which has seen the number of Catholics applying to join rise by more than 200.

The force is aiming to attract more Catholic officers, as well as more women and people from ethnic backgrounds.

In just over three weeks the force received 6,961 applications, an increase of over 700 from a 2018 recruitment campaign. An additional 223 applications were from Catholics.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she received dissident republican threats after Sinn Fein showed support for the PSNI recruitment campaign earlier this month.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have called for the reintroduction of the 50/50 recruitment policy which ran for 10 years until 2011.

But unionists have expressed concern and Mrs Long told the justice committee she was "not a fan" of what she called a "very blunt tool (with) unintended consequences in terms of confidence in other parts of the community, which is unhelpful".

She added: "It's not a conversation I would want to have. What I would like is a pool of applicants who would ensure we have a reflective police service without having to artificially manufacture that."

Mrs Long was also quizzed about the timing of a new domestic violence Bill in Northern Ireland, which she said should be introduced in April.

The Justice Minister hopes a Bill to deal with stalking can be put before the Assembly in the autumn. The law will make the crime a specific offence and allow for the introduction of stalking protection orders.

Asked about the funding required to achieve some of her aims, Mrs Long acknowledged she was operating in a "challenging environment".

Belfast Telegraph


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