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National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland - 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019

Statement made on 15 July 2020

Statement UIN HCWS373


This is a summary of the main findings from the report by His Honour Brian Barker QC, the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland, covering the period from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019. His Honour Brian Barker concludes:

The overview is a twelve-month period of almost constant change and unpredictability. At the core was another year without a functioning Executive or Assembly and no representative capacity for vital decisions on development to be taken.

Throughout the reporting period I have taken the opportunity to arrange meetings with appropriate senior members of the Service and PSNI, and to be briefed on significant events. My visits to both MI5 and various PSNI establishments confirm my view that there is a deep sense of commitment and high level of professionalism in the continuing and unpredictable battle against indiscriminate and violent lawlessness. Relations with An Garda Siochana continue to strengthen aided by the appointment of PSNI’s Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner in September 2018.

Following the pattern in recent years there have been successes in the containment of dissident groups, but the context in which national security activities are performed remain ‘challenging’ and constant care and vigilance by members of the PSNI and the Prison Service both in relation to personal safety remain absolutely necessary.

Arriving from Cheshire Constabulary, Chief Constable Simon Byrne took over on July 1st and was given little time to settle in before a marching season that was disappointingly violent. I was grateful for an introductory meeting in August, and a fuller exchange took place in November covering many of the difficulties, not least the step change in dissident attacks. An examination of CHIS procedures and control had been satisfactory.

The frustrations of the Policing Board were partially addressed by legislation in November 2018 allowing new membership, followed by effective reconstitution in December. I was able to assess progress at a meeting in May and attended what was a very useful exchange. The Board was now able to discharge their wide range of overseeing constitutional duties and follow the seven principles set out in the 2017-2020 Plan to continue oversight of the work of the police and to encourage engagement at all levels. In a meeting with Professor Duncan Morrow and Dr Jonny Byrne of the University of Ulster a valuable perspective was provided by their reflections on the ‘state of the union’ based on years of research and teaching.

The annual statistics issued to mid 2019 show that the powers of stop and search under section 47a of the Terrorism Act 2000 were not exercised. There were 169 premises searched under warrant under section 37 Schedule 5 of the same Act. There were 146 persons detained under section 41 of the Terrorism Act and 143 (98%) were held for 48 hours or less. 16 persons were charged with a total of 39 offences including four charges of attempted murder, eight charges of firearms offences, six charges of GBH with intent and four charges of possession of offensive weapon. A total of 34 persons were disposed of by non-jury trial, 29 of whom were found guilty of at least one charge. A total of 17 non-jury trial certificates were issued by the DPP, four down on the previous year. There as a total of six persons convicted in the Crown Court under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2006 or the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, one less than the previous year. There were 1515 examinations carried out by police officers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, 656 of which were examinations of persons, eight of which resulted in a detention. Paramilitary style shootings resulted in 17 casualties, down four compared with 2017, all being aged 18 or above. Paramilitary assaults resulted in 60 casualties, up by six. No compensation or agency payments were made under section 38 schedule 4 of the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 where property was broken, destroyed or damaged or other private property rights interfered with.

I wish to note the full co-operation extended to me by both MI5 and the PSNI where standards and commitment, in the face of unpredictable difficulties, continue to be of high order.

Determined attacks from extremists have continued and police and prison officers face unacceptable risk in pursuing their duties as they continue to be regarded as legitimate targets.

The tragic killing of Lyra McKee has robbed Northern Ireland of a ‘rising star’ - someone who also believed passionately in social and religious tolerance; but her death generated widespread anger and condemnation of the activities of terrorists. One of her legacies hopefully will be an acceleration along the slow road to normalization.

I have measured performance in this reporting period against the five key principles identified in relation to national security in Annex E to the St Andrews Agreement of October 2006. My conclusions are set out in the attached table.