Report of the Independent Reviewer for National Security Arrangements 2023

Northern Ireland Office written statement – made am ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The role of the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland is to monitor compliance with Annex E of the St. Andrews Agreement 2006, reviewing the relationship between MI5 and PSNI in handling national security matters.

Professor Marie Breen Smyth, the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland, has sent me her report for 2023. What follows is a summary of the main findings of the report covering the period from 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2023. Professor Breen Smyth states:

“My contact with MI5 and the PSNI was again largely conducted in person. Policy directions remain consistent with those made in the review period in 2022.

For the first time since records began in 1969, there were no security related deaths in 2023. However, there was an increase in bombing and shooting incidents compared with the previous 12 months. Groups that are not assessed to be a National Security threat, such as loyalist paramilitary groupings, conducted some of these.

A review of the numbers of actual and attempted attacks from 2008 until 2023 shows that the highest number of attacks were conducted in 2010 when the security risk was SEVERE falling consistently through to 2022. The downward trend is apparent in all categories, with the exception of shooting and bombing incidents where there was a rise in the current period. There is a slight increase in the number of people arrested and a moderate decline in the number of people charged.

The year began with the Northern Ireland Related Terrorism (NIRT) threat at SUBSTANTIAL – an attack is likely - having been reduced to this level on 22 March 2022. Attacks by dissident republicans (DRs) have significantly declined since 2009. Nevertheless, dissident republican activity increased in early 2023, including the attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell in Omagh in February.

On 28 March 2023, the NIRT Threat Level was raised to SEVERE – an attack is highly likely. The threat level had been lowered from SEVERE to SUBSTANTIAL in March 2022. Before this, it had remained at SEVERE for over a decade.

The primary target for DR groups remains PSNI and prison officers. Thus, there is a risk of an attack as long as the level of DR activity remains significant. Such attacks are within the capability of DRs and constitute a risk not only to the intended targets such as PSNI officers, but because of their actions they unintentionally place members of the public at risk.

The perceived and possibly the actual risk to PSNI officers was exacerbated by a data breach which took place on 8 August 2023 when the PSNI responded to a Freedom of Information request and inadvertently published officer details online.

The national security threat emanating from DR groups forms only part of the wider security picture. Paramilitary-style attacks, threats and intimidation directed at the wider community emanate from DRs and other republican and loyalist groups as well as serious and organised crime groups.

There has been no significant change within loyalist groupings in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework. Concerns remain in relation to wider constitutional issues perceived to be affecting Northern Ireland. Armed loyalist organisations show no signs of resurgence on this or other issues.

In terms of prospects for the security of the immediate future, violent dissident republicans remain intent on conducting attacks against security targets and the security forces continue to work to disrupt those threats. Despite successful interdictions by them and an almost complete lack of community support for their activities, DRs remain committed to violence as a strategy. As a result, attacks and attempted attacks remain highly likely.

The implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework and perceived consequences for the constitutional position of Northern Ireland remains a significant issues for the Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) community. Discontent within this community has previously been linked with localised disorder as seen in 2021.

As IRNSA I believe that a formal process of paramilitary transition is needed to dismantle the remaining organisations, ending recruitment and taking weapons out of circulation. Whilst compiling the report I discussed recent initiatives in relation to paramilitary transition and how this can benefit the security picture. There will remain a significant organised crime problem, but Northern Ireland has this in common with the rest of the UK and beyond. Ending paramilitarism would clear the path to a focused law enforcement approach, devoid of any political overtones.

Although dissident republicans continue to pose the most significant threat to national security in Northern Ireland, efforts by security partners has meant that the vast majority of the population are able to go about their daily lives secure from the threat of terrorism. Despite this, risks to serving police officers and prison officers persist and constant vigilance remains necessary.”


Annex E to the St Andrews Agreement

Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirms that it accepts and will ensure that effect is given to the five key principles which the Chief Constable has identified as crucial to the effective operation of the new arrangement.

a: All Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI

I am satisfied that the PSNI continue to have sight of all Security Service intelligence relating to NIRT. There is compliance.

b: PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter terrorist activities relating to Northern Ireland

A number of processes ensure that PSNI are fully informed. There is compliance

c: Security Service intelligence will be disseminated within PSNI according to the current PSNI dissemination policy, and using police procedures

This continues to be organisational practice. There is compliance.

d: The great majority of national security CHIS in Northern Ireland will continue to be run by PSNI officers under existing handling protocol

The PSNI and Security Service continue to work jointly on cases. Arrangements for this continue to be jointly negotiated and agreed. There is compliance.

e: There will be no diminution the PSNI’s responsibility to comply with the Human Rights Act or the Policing Board’s ability to monitor HRA compliance

PSNI continues to operate within the National Security arena in strict compliance with ECHR. There is compliance.