The terror threat in NI is, as we already knew, severe

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The threat level from terrorism in Northern Ireland remains severe, we were told yesterday.

The Secretary of State James Brokenshire confirmed as much in a written statement to Parliament.

But we already know that.

Adrian Ismay, a prison officer, was murdered this year.

There have been a number of legal cases relating to other terrorist incidents in which evidence heard in open court has revealed the extent to which dissident republicans are planning to bomb and to murder with great care and effort.

It has been clear for many years that the intelligence agencies have had concerns about the dissident capability. Those operatives are doing crucial round the clock work in keeping society safe from fanatics who would kill and maim.

Support for dissidents is small, but nonetheless real and of sufficient scale to register in surveys of public attitudes.

Mercifully, political representatives of these dangerous men and women have not made any electoral breakthrough.

A separate, but equally vile threat, exists from loyalist terror groups. Many of these organisations are only interested in criminality and drug dealing and the threat that they pose to life is not in terms of political violence but rather violence that is targeted against rivals.

In response to both sets of terrorists, the utmost vigilance is called for, as Mr Brokenshire says.

But also, a serious debate needs to be had about the criminal justice response to the dissident threat, specifically with regard to bail and sentencing policy. Some decisions in both regards in recent years have been alarming.

It is important when moderate nationalists isolate the men of violence, by moving beyond the language of ‘human rights’ and supporting the state when it needs to be robust (as the SDLP did last year with the National Crime Agency).

That sort of decision is the right thing to do, and helps to protect the most important right of all – the right to life.