Terror attack in Northern Ireland ‘highly likely’ as Simon Harris says continued peace is ‘vital’

Stock image

Senan Molony

The heightening of the terror threat level in Northern Ireland is “concerning and regrettable”, Justice Minister Simon Harris has said.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris announced the move on Tuesday after the decision was taken by MI5.

It means that the probability of an attack has increased from substantial to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Mr Heaton-Harris cited a "small number" of individuals who remain determined to use "politically motivated violence".

Announcing the change from Britain’s intelligence agency on Tuesday, he urged the public to "remain vigilant" but "not be alarmed".

The move comes after a series of incidents targeting security forces in Northern Ireland, including the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in Omagh last month.

The threat level for the rest of the UK remains at "substantial", meaning an attack is considered "likely".

Speaking after the announcement, Mr Harris said paramilitaries of the type that had inflicted near-fatal wounds on PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell were following a “morally vacant path.”

The minister said it remained the assessment that the chances of a terror attack in this jurisdiction was low.

Mr Harris said he would stay in touch with Mr Heaton-Harris, while An Garda Siochána was working closely with its counterpart in relation to the all-island challenge.

“25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, continued peace and stability is absolutely vital,” Mr Harris said.

Northern Ireland's level had been lowered to substantial a year ago - the first time it had been altered since 2010.

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Heaton-Harris said MI5 had increased the threat level to the region from Northern Ireland-related terrorism independently of ministers.

"The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland," he said.

He said that despite the success of the Good Friday Agreement "a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence".

"In recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland related terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public.

"These attacks have no support, as demonstrated by the reaction to the abhorrent attempted murder of DCI Caldwell."