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Terrorist Activity

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]

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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

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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.

Police Service

3. Lady Hermon (North Down): What assessment he has made of the recruitment procedure for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. [10850]

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5. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): If he will make a statement on police recruitment in Northern Ireland. [10852]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): The first recruitment campaign for the Police Service of Northern Ireland will enable the Chief Constable to appoint some 300 police trainees from Catholic and Protestant traditions on a 50:50 basis. It should be noted that that is many more than Chris Patten envisaged when he wrote his report.

Lady Hermon: I thank the Minister for her reply and the Secretary of State and other hon. Members for their congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I regret that he cannot be here this afternoon, but he had a long-standing engagement in Washington and he sends his apologies to the House. I wish him and Mark Durkan all the best as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They form an excellent team and I am delighted that they are back.

Will the Minister confirm that the same standards will apply to all those who enter the recruitment pool and that they will not be lowered for some? There are rumours about the matter and I would appreciate a clear statement on recruitment procedure.

Jane Kennedy: I am conscious of the hon. Lady's close interest in the subject and that she has written to me recently about it. She pursues her interest in the Police Service and her concerns in Northern Ireland vigorously. It is important to note that the merit pool is a measure approved by Parliament to tackle the under-representation of Catholics and to enable the Police Service to be more widely accepted. That is the purpose of the 50:50 recruitment trawl.

However, standards have not been lowered. On the contrary, the quality of applicants has been high. All candidates who entered the merit pool were required to fulfil the same fixed qualifying criteria. They have undergone a series of rigorous tests based on United Kingdom-wide competencies. All 300 or more recruits who are joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland deserve our support and compliments on their success so far. We wish them all the best in their training.

Mr. Watts: Does the Minister know that many people in the country are fed up with the negative attitudes of many Northern Ireland politicians? Can she confirm that Sinn Fein appears to be actively discouraging people from joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Jane Kennedy: My hon. Friend is largely right. It is important to note that almost 20,000 people have sought information about the Police Service of Northern Ireland and recruitment to it. We may have as many as 4,000 definite applicants for the second round of appointments. We hope that all political parties in Northern Ireland will sign up as soon as possible and participate in the new policing arrangement.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I am afraid that I cannot take the same tone on policing. Is not it unsatisfactory that the new Police Service of Northern Ireland and the new Police Board are being launched this week with an inherited £20 million deficit? That reduces

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the possibility of their fulfilling their appointed tasks. Is not it even more unsatisfactory that the new Police Service is not being funded to implement the community policing provisions of the Patten report? They are vital if we are to replace the terror of paramilitary groups in the inner-city areas. Does the Minister agree that there should be no question in the current circumstances of running down the full-time reserve?

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman may have missed the fact that we have already committed a further £10 million to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Discussions are continuing, and there is a likelihood of further resources later in the year. The Chief Constable assures me that while the voluntary severance programme is being effected, the police's continuing service to the community, including implementing community policing, will remain efficient, effective and accountable.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary has recently been laid to rest and the Police Service of Northern Ireland has come into being. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wish to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of the RUC. More than 300 RUC police officers have been killed in the line of duty; hundreds more have been injured.

I look forward to working with the new Police Service of Northern Ireland in future, and I am sure that the RUC's professionalism and dedication will continue to be demonstrated by the officers of the new service.


The Prime Minister was asked—

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