Northern Ireland

Woodward warning on dissident republican threat

The shadow Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has said the threat from dissidents is real and growing.

Addressing the Labour party conference, Mr Woodward warned the whole of the UK was at risk from a terrorist attack.

He also revealed there had been more than 30 attacks or attempted attacks by dissidents so far this year, compared to 20 in 2009.

Mr Woodward said the coalition government must recognise the special circumstances in NI.

He said the chancellor must give "particular care" to the needs of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

"I don't doubt that great efficiency can be found by the PSNI, just as it can by any force in this country but the threat from dissidents, their campaign of violence and murder is a real clear and present danger for the brave men and women of the PSNI and the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"For the last three years dissident ambition and activity in Northern Ireland has grown, year in, year out.

"These men and women of violence are ruthless. Give them, the RIRA, CIRA the chance and they will kill," he warned.

"Yesterday their targets were mainly security forces, especially the PSNI, Today their targets are broader. Their reckless intent puts at risk the lives of the public."

Mr Woodward described the threat as "very real".

"Last week the security service raised the threat level in Britain, greater than any time since the Belfast Agreement. They were right to make the assessment, the government right to publish it, so we must be vigilant."

The shadow Secretary of State said the PSNI must have the resources to meet the challenge, not just counter terrorism but community policing.

He said this was vital to combat the threat.

"Today's terrorists have no community support, so different from the past. Their crimes have no supporters, they act alone, they are alone and in all we do, we must ensure they can never build community support, so community policing matters.

"Building confidence in legitimate policing is the greatest break on dissident growth. Break that confidence, take community policing off the streets by cuts and the risks are huge."

Mr Woodward told delegates that the legacy issues of the Troubles must be dealt with properly.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron had been right to apologise to the families of those who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and said his party joined in that apology.

"Many lessons have already been learnt. But questions remain," he said.

"Beyond Saville there are questions of other terrible events in the story of the Troubles.

"The inquiry into the death of Billy Wright has just been published.

"Inquiries into the death of Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill will be published soon.

"These inquiries are an essential part of building the peace. Building trust."

Mr Woodward offered some "cautionary advice" to the new coalition government.

"Northern Ireland needs a process to deal with its past.

"If the government is to rule out inquiries, it must replace it with a process, fair to all, to deal with the past," he warned.