HC Deb 07 November 2001 vol 374 cc225-7
2. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If he will make a statement on attempts at terrorist activity by republicans since 1 January. [10849]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

Since 1 January this year, of those terrorist actions that were reported or otherwise came to the attention of the police, 223 have been attributed to republican groupings.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful for that response. In the light of the bombing of Manchester five years ago and the attempted bombing of Birmingham at the weekend, does the Minister agree that today the threat to Britain's cities from Continuity IRA and Real IRA is at least as great as the threat from al-Qaeda? Does she also agree that it is necessary to pursue all terrorist organisations and all terrorists with equal vigour, regardless of their origins?

Jane Kennedy

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's final point. Had he asked a different question, I might have been able to tell him that during the same period more than 840 attempts to commit terrorist acts were made, 620 of which were attributed to loyalist groups. He is right to say that we must tackle terrorist activity wherever and by whomever it is attempted, but I disagree with the main thrust of his question. It is important to note that the Chief Constable has confirmed his view that there has been a real improvement in the situation as a result of the IRA's decision to decommission a quantity of arms. The advice of the Chief Constable must be taken very seriously at a time like this.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

We all know that all terrorism is founded on, and is inextricably bound up with, the drugs trade, organised crime and racketeering. What steps are the Government taking to deal with and dismantle that apparatus of terrorism?

Jane Kennedy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me the opportunity to publicise the organised crime taskforce, which I chair and which was set up just over a year ago. It has enabled the key agencies in Northern Ireland—Customs and Excise, the Police Service, the Inland Revenue and other agencies—to come together and work together in a much more co-ordinated and coherent way, strengthening relationships between them. As a result, there have been a number of key successes, including drug seizures, the seizure of illegal alcohol, and the interception and the disruption of organised crime in Northern Ireland. Sadly, such crime is one of the key hallmarks of the way in which violence and criminality are developing in the Province.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

Does the Minister accept that, despite all the talk about decommissioning, the reality on the ground for many people, especially in north Belfast, is that there is no real decommissioning? Will she confirm to the House the involvement of the Provisional IRA in shooting attacks on the RUC in Duncairn gardens, the shooting of a Protestant man on the Limestone road and a shooting attack on the Ardoyne on Saturday a week ago? While there is much talk about decommissioning, will the Minister confirm that there has to be a programme and timetable for the verifiable completion of decommissioning by the February deadline?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman referred to a number of incidents. If he had heard the answer that I gave earlier, he would know that I said that terrorist activity is perpetrated by a number of paramilitary organisations across Northern Ireland. The response of the security forces is to tackle those incidents wherever they occur and whoever carries them out.

It is important to remember that the aim of the peace process is total decommissioning of all paramilitary arms; that is the purpose and role of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The role of the head of that commission will continue and he will maintain contact with the paramilitary organisations that are in touch with him. It is important that organisations involved in terrorism use that opportunity to introduce plans for further decommissioning.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

While all terrorist violence is undoubtedly barbaric, is it not a particular obscenity to try to bomb Birmingham where, in November 1974, 21 innocent people were butchered? Is that not yet another illustration of the sort of people in the so-called Real IRA, who go against the mandate of people in the Republic who made it perfectly clear that they support, by an overwhelming majority, the Good Friday agreement

Jane Kennedy

We unreservedly condemn such attacks. My hon. Friend is right; there can be no support whatsoever—in fact, nothing but absolute condemnation—for individuals who would organise and try to carry out such murderous attacks. I therefore entirely agree with him. At such times, it is important to recognise the role that the police are playing in pursuing vigorously those who are responsible for those murderous attacks to make sure that they are brought to justice for their crime.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I accept that the Minister and the Secretary and State said that the overall level of threat is reducing at the moment. However, given the bomb in Birmingham, the bombs elsewhere and continuing efforts by Real IRA and Continuity IRA to murder members of the security forces this year in Northern Ireland, will the Minister confirm that the threat is real and serious, and that any failure to suppress wider paramilitary violence, to which she referred in an earlier reply, could lead to the historic pattern of republican violence repeating itself?

Jane Kennedy

Security is kept at a level consistent with the threat posed by republican dissidents. The security forces are very much aware of that threat and that from rogue elements within loyalism. It is important that individuals involved in violence ask themselves how they should respond to the significant step recently taken by the Provisional IRA. It is important that they end all paramilitary activity, preparations for paramilitary activity and violence of any sort, intimidation and racketeering.