Government silent on whether anti-terror measures include NI

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) had offered no clarity on whether new anti-terror measures laid out in the Queen’s Speech are supposed to cover Northern Ireland as well as Great Britain.

The Queen’s Speech, penned by the Tory government, said that following the London and Manchester terror attacks it would examine whether “the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are sufficient to keep the population safe”.

It also said that “a commission for countering extremism will be established to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet”.

As of 8pm on Wednesday, the NIO has not responded to a request to state whether both measures are also intended to extend to Northern Ireland.

A review into criminal sentencing is already taking place in Northern Ireland.

However, as reported by the News Letter, this existing review makes no mention of sentences for terror offences.

It had been announced on June 9 last year by Claire Sugden, the then-justice minister.

It was designed to look at crimes against “older and vulnerable people”; “offences which may result in death, including causing death by dangerous driving”; attacks on frontline public workers “with a focus on health service staff”; “hate crimes”; tariffs regarding mandatory life sentences for murder; and appeals against lenient sentences.

Nowhere did it look specifically at terrorist crimes, something which the TUV leader (and barrister) Jim Allister said rendered it a “pointless exercise”, because “it is within the terrorism field that there is most concern about the inadequacy of sentencing”.

When the News Letter asked the Department for Justice last month how close this review was to completion, it would only say that it is “now under way”.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said on Wednesday that “we will work with the government to ensure that any proposals for countering extremism apply across the UK”.

Whilst tighter sentences would be a matter devolved to Northern Ireland, he added that “of course we’ll be pressing the case for that at Westminster” in the event of Direct Rule.

Sinn Fein was asked whether it would object to the two measures in question covering Northern Ireland.

It did not respond.

THE FACTS AND FIGURES BEHIND THE ANTI-TERROR FIGHT:

Figures showing the breakdown of terror arrests in Great Britain from 2001 to the present day reveal “international terrorism” (the category into which most Islamist terrorism appears to fall) consistently makes up at least two-thirds of all such arrests.

Northern Ireland-related terror accounted for about a quarter of all such arrests back in 2001 - but last year it amounted to only around three or four per cent.

Statistics compiled for England and Wales show that last year (2016/17) looked at the sentences handed down for 68 terror-related convictions throughout the year.

Most of those convictions (28) attracted sentences of between four and 10 years, whilst 22 of them attracted sentences of between one and four years.

Only 10 attracted sentences of between 10 years and life, whilst five attracted no custodial sentence at all.