We cannot be complacent about peace, MPs told

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A debate has taken place in the House of Commons regarding the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said the recent murder of prison officer David Black was the latest in a series of events in recent years which underlined the continued security issues.

Mr Dodds repeated concerns about the reduced security alert level on the UK mainland - from substantial to moderate - in connection to the republican threat.

But he also warmly praised the announcement by David Cameron that the G8 summit next June would be held at the Lough Erne Resort, Co Fermanagh.

The Belfast North MP spoke to open a DUP debate in the Commons chamber focused on security in Northern Ireland.

He said: “There is no doubt about the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over recent years.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday is something that would have been unthinkable, he said 20 years ago, I think even 10 years ago. It is an immense opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase its talents and the opportunities we can provide to a worldwide audience.

“It is one of the marks of the progress we have made.

“(But) people can sometimes fall into the belief that everything is now sorted out and settled as far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

“These events and the tragic murder of David Black have served to remind everyone that massive challenges remain. It is important we debate these issues here today, take note of the progress that has been made but also make clear to the people of Northern Ireland there is no complacency and there is no sense the challenges are being underestimated.”

Mr Dodds said the criminals who persist in killings and attacks want to take Northern Ireland back to the days of “death, bloodshed and mayhem”.

The DUP deputy leader said it was troubling to see splinter groups coming together under a new umbrella organisation dubbing itself the IRA.

He said: “We must act swiftly and decisively now to bring these people to book.

“A short time ago there was an announcement by the Home Secretary (Theresa May) that the threat level from dissident republicans on the mainland has been reduced from substantial to moderate. In Northern Ireland it remains at substantial.

“At the time I expressed the concern that such an announcement may be premature and counterproductive and people needed reassurance.”

Mr Dodds asked if the Government had reassessed the security situation in the wake of Mr Black’s killing. The prison officer was shot on the M1 in Co Armagh on November 1.

Paying tribute to Mr Black, Mr Dodds said: “He was an innocent public servant, who was going to work when he was brutally gunned down in cold blood by despicable criminals.

“His death will leave a massive void in the lives of his wife and children which will never be filled and we continue to think of Mrs Black and her two children.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

“We will remember him and his colleagues and all those who died in the service of defending Northern Ireland and it is our duty to do all that we can to ensure, as far as possible, this kind of violence is thwarted and defeated.”

Mr Dodds said that, while many people who used to be involved in the armed groups had given up violence and were working for the good of their communities, “there are others who try to have a foot in both camps”.

“If there are people who are still involved and want to try to pretend they can have it both ways then the full rigour of the law needs to come down upon them,” he said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers updated MPs on the investigation into the “despicable” murder of Mr Black.

Two men, aged 34 and 42, were detained in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, on Wednesday.

Ms Villiers said: “Anyone with information on this crime or any other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland should come forward and contact the police as a matter of urgency.”

She added: “As well as being a personal tragedy, this cowardly murder represents an attack on the wider community.

“Contrary to the ambitions of the so-called dissidents, attacks like this actually strengthen the determination of the vast majority in all parts of the community to move forwards and to see violence and terrorism left behind as a part of Northern Ireland’s past and not its future.”

Ms Villiers insisted that the necessary resources would be devoted to ensuring the G8 summit would be properly policed.

“We are committed to making sure that the policing and security operation in relation to the G8 is a success,” she said.

“Of course appropriate resources will be allocated to that and we will be making announcements in due course, probably in January, about the budgets for the G8.”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker believed the announcement Co Fermanagh would host the G8 showed how much security had improved in Ulster.

He said: “Things have changed considerably for the better.

“It would have been unthinkable only a few years ago that an occasion of this significance, with all of the security implications it presents, could be held in Northern Ireland.”

But he highlighted Mr Black’s death as proof vigilance was still needed against terrorists.

“David Black’s murder was not just an isolated incident,” Mr Coaker said.

“It was part of a pattern of dissident republican terrorist activity across Northern Ireland, targeted primarily at security forces.”

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) feared his constituency’s City of Culture status next year would offer terrorist groups a tempting target, though he believed they lacked the manpower and expertise to mount regular assaults.

“That will be a whole sequence of events starting six weeks that will run through next year. Dissidents again will see the opportunity for targeting, they will pick and choose the events they want to try and disrupt,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the capacity of dissident terrorists who are now coming under the umbrella of the IRA to carry out their activities cannot and must not be underestimated.

“The fact that this year those terrorists have carried out six or seven gun or bomb attacks each and every month is evidence of their capacity.

“They do not have the capacity for a sustained campaign, they are not in the same category as the Provisional IRA (PIRA), they are not even, it appears at the moment, intent on a sustained level of bombing and shooting every day of every week of every month.”

Democratic Unionist David Simpson (Upper Bann) highlighted the risks faced by public servants, including MPs as they represent their constituents.

He said: “We are dealing with human lives, with people who have to go out in the morning to go and do a day’s work who are looking over their shoulders.

“All of us on these benches live with it every day.”

He said many MPs checked their cars for bombs before driving, but added: “We all get very lax whenever nothing has happened for a while and we don’t check under our vehicles or look over our shoulders the way we should do.

“That happens, but some day it will happen again and it will be too late and a device will be there and it will be all over.”

Conservative MP Ian Gow was killed when the PIRA planted a bomb under his car in 1990.

Eleven years earlier, Tory MP and shadow Northern Ireland secretary Airey Neave was killed when his car exploded as he drove from the Palace of Westminster after the Irish National Liberation Army planted a bomb beneath his vehicle.