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Terror Threat

MI5 increases terror threat level in Northern Ireland from 'substantial' to 'severe'

The Northern Ireland secretary has said ‘the public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed’.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Mar 2023

MI5 HAS INCREASED the terror threat level in Northern Ireland from substantial to “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely.

That’s according to a written statement to MPs from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

In March 2022, it was reduced from severe to substantial for the first time since it was first published in 2010.

“The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland,” Heaton-Harris said in the statement.

The Northern Ireland secretary added that a “small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence.”

“Over the last 25 years, Northern Ireland has transformed into a peaceful society,” said Heaton-Harris.

“The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement demonstrates how peaceful and democratic politics improve society.

“However, a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence.

“In recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland-related terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public.

“These attacks have no support, as demonstrated by the reaction to the abhorrent attempted murder of DCI Caldwell.”

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was attacked shortly after 8pm on 22 February at a sports complex on the Killyclogher Road in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

He was putting footballs into the boot of his car and was accompanied by his young son when gunmen approached and fired multiple shots before fleeing the scene.

The investigation into his attempted murder is primarily focused on the New IRA after a typed message appeared on a wall in Derry, purportedly from the organisation and claiming responsibility for Caldwell’s attempted murder.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said there is no place or space for paramilitary groups in a modern, democratic society, adding: “They must go.”

She tweeted: “Today’s announcement that the level of threat has been increased comes against the backdrop of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

“A quarter century on there is no place or space for paramilitary groups in a modern, democratic society. They must go.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson meanwhile urged the UK government to fund more police officers in the region.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said those who “continue to choose violence in the pursuit of constitutional change in Ireland have been defeated politically”.

“They have no support, they will never win and they now need to disband for good,” Eastwood added. 

Eastwood also said the “peace we have built is imperfect because it has failed to deal with the insidious influence of paramilitaries on predominantly working class communities across the North”.

Speaking this afternoon, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “The independent assessment means the threat has moved from an attack is ‘likely’ to an attack is ‘highly likely’.

“This is part of an ongoing process of monitoring the threat level in Northern Ireland, which is conducted by MI5.

“We have spoken publicly about the number of attacks that have taken place in recent months, not least the attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell on February 22.

“We will relentlessly pursue those who seek to cause harm and terrorise our communities, and attack my officers and staff, and I pay tribute to them as they continue to deliver for our communities.”

Byrne also thanked the community and political leaders in Northern Ireland for their support for the PSNI in recent times.

“We will not be deterred from delivering a visible, accessible and responsive community focused policing service to keep people safe,” said the PSNI Chief Constable. 

Speaking to reporters today, Justice Minister Simon Harris said it is “concerning and regrettable that this has proved a necessary response to the security environment in Northern Ireland”.

“Despite the enormous progress made towards a lasting peace on this island, there remains to this day a real and persistent threat from paramilitary groups opposed to peace and democracy,” said the Justice Minister.

He added that the “callous targeting of PSNI officers underlies the morally vacant path these dissident groups seem to follow”.

Harris also noted that “we stand ready to provide any support necessary” regarding the shooting of DCI Caldwell in Omagh.

The Justice Minister also said that he is “assured by the garda commissioner (Drew Harris) that the security situation on the island is kept under continual review by the gardaí, and in close cooperation with the PSNI”.

Minister Harris noted that the “threat of an attack from these groups in this jurisdiction is generally considered to be low”.

However, he said gardaí “continue to work closely with services in Northern Ireland in dealing with any threats on the island, having regard to the threat level in Northern Ireland”.

Minister Harris is due to speak to the Northern Ireland secretary later today said he has already “reassured the Secretary of State of the continued commitment of An Garda Síochána”.

“25 years on the Good Friday Agreement, continued peace and stability on the island of Ireland is absolutely vital and we will never lose sight of that goal,” said Harris.

He also paid tribute to the members An Garda Síochána and the PSNI “who work tirelessly and cooperate closely to counter the threat from paramilitary organisations and strive to keep us all safe”.

The increased terror threat comes ahead of an expected visit by US President Joe Biden to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

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