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Terror threat level in Northern Ireland lowered but attack still 'likely'

The assessment was made by MI5 – the British internal intelligence agency.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Mar 2022

THE BRITISH INTELLIGENCE agency MI5 has lowered the terror threat in Northern Ireland from severe to substantial but warns that an attack is likely. 

The agency has responsibility for internal intelligence operations within the United Kingdom.

A statement from Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said the decision was made independent of the British Government. 

The assessment from MI5 has recommended the change for the first time since September 2010. 

“Despite the change in the threat level, terrorism remains one of the most direct and immediate risks to our National Security and to communities in Northern Ireland.

“There remains a small group of people determined to destabilise the political settlement in Northern Ireland through acts of terrorism.

“Substantial means that a terrorist attack is likely and might well occur without further warning,” a British statement said.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne, of the PSNI, welcomed the reduction but cautioned that the threat remains high but said that it showed the success in combatting terrorist groups in Northern Ireland particularly in targeting the New IRA.

“The independent assessment means the threat has moved from an attack is ‘highly likely’, to ‘likely’.

“Unfortunately, there is still a small group of people within our society who are intent on causing harm and dragging Northern Ireland back to the past.  We will continue to pursue those individuals and bring them before the courts.

“The public won’t see an immediate change in how we deliver policing and our priority will remain the same, to deliver a visible, accessible and responsive community focused policing service to keep people safe,” Byrne said. 

The reduction in threat level comes as discussions continue around the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.

Recent reports of violence and threats from Loyalists as well as Republican dissidents has raised concerns among politicians. 

Loyalist activities included extensive street violence in April of last year – there is also concerns of a border campaign by dissident republican elements. 

Security sources have said that British security services have had successes in infiltrating dissident republican groups. 

Activities in the Derry area have seen a number of seizures and arrests made while in November in Cavan gardaí seized a Kalashnikov style assault rifle and ammunition.

There have also been a number of arrests in the border county by gardaí investigating dissident republican activities. 

Sources have said that concerns are high among security agencies north and south of the border that Brexit fuelled disquiet could cause a spike in terrorist activity.

Previously a former commander of the Real IRA, John Connolly, said in this publication that customs infrastructure on the border would cause attacks and be a recruitment bonanza for dissident republicans.

A Department of Justice spokesperson in Dublin said that Irish agencies were working closely with British efforts to prevent terror attacks.

“Any level of threat from the terrorist activities is a major concern for the Government.

“There is ongoing close co-operation between An Garda Síochána and their counterparts in Northern Ireland and Britain to counter the threat from terrorists,” she said. 

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