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Number of dissident republican attacks in NI down 20pc this year

THE number of dissident republican attacks in Northern Ireland has fallen by 20pc so far this year, the Secretary of State has said.

Barring a few exceptions, the potency and sophistication of the violent actions by the extremists has also dropped, Theresa Villiers told a Westminster committee.

But Mrs Villiers warned that their intention and capacity to kill was still significant and the Government remained vigilant to that threat.

Outlining the security assessment to members of Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Secretary of State commended police on both sides of the Irish border for recent successes against dissidents.

"There have been 20 national security attacks so far in 2012 as against 25 to the end of October last year," she said.

"The sophistication and potency of attacks is on the whole lower than in 2011 although there have been some exceptions to this."

Mrs Villiers said the threat level in Northern Ireland was severe, though revealed there had been "some fluctuations in the threat" over the last six months.

"The intent and capability of the dissident republicans remains significant as is their potential to carry out potentially lethal attacks," she said.

"That should never be underestimated and we remain vigilant on these matters."

In July various dissident factions, including the Real IRA, announced they had joined forces and were now calling themselves the IRA.

Mrs Villiers said this new group was to blame for leaving two bombs in Londonderry in September.

While the threat in Northern Ireland remains severe, earlier this month the assessment of a dissident attack in Great Britain was reduced to moderate.

Mrs Villiers, on her first appearance before the committee since she succeeded Owen Paterson this summer, said she was satisfied the UK Government was doing everything it could to help tackle the threat.

She said she was also confident the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland rejected, and would continue to reject, the dissidents.

"I don't believe they will achieve their ends of destabilising the political settlement," she said.