Secretary of State speech to the Police Federation for Northern Ireland

Earlier today, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley spoke at the annual Police Federation for Northern Ireland

I am genuinely delighted to be able to say a few words at your conference this morning … and I’m very grateful to your chairman, Mark Lindsay, for his kind invitation. In my time as Secretary of State since January I’ve quickly come to appreciate the tireless work that Mark and his team do to represent the interests of the Federation … both here in Northern Ireland and also in Westminster and Whitehall.

So, Mark, thank you for all that you do … and even where we might occasionally differ your input is always greatly valued and appreciated.

And having listened to your very forthright speech this morning nobody could be left in any doubt about your determination to stand up for your members. Indeed, for a moment I was beginning to think I was actually the Home Secretary.

But seriously, Mark, I do hear what you say … and understand your concerns … and hope to be able to address at least some of them in my remarks this morning.

Tributes

Last month we marked the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement … a landmark event in the history of these islands that a triumph of politics over the devastation and division of what had taken place here over the previous twenty years.

A number of politicians rightly take credit for that Agreement … and the relative peace and stability that has flowed from it.

I pay tribute again to the leadership, courage and vision that they demonstrated in 1998 in wanting to move Northern Ireland forward.

But there’s one group of people whose contribution to the 1998 Agreement is today, sadly, too often overlooked or in certain cases grossly misrepresented.

I am referring of course to those members of the security forces who throughout the troubles stood valiantly for democracy and the rule of law against those who sought to destroy both.

This Government’s view is clear … without the courage, professionalism and, yes, sacrifice, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and our Armed Forces there would have been no peace process in Northern Ireland and no Agreement.

So we must never forget the contribution that they made … and the enormous debt of gratitude that we owe them.

Progress

Since the early 1990s Northern Ireland has in so many respects been transformed. The economy is growing steadily … with unemployment at a record low. Exports are up … and are currently worth over £10 billion with total sales by Northern Ireland companies worth £70 billion.

Nine hundred international companies have invested in Northern Ireland, with 80 per cent of new investors reinvesting here.

Tourism is booming … with the first nine months of 2017 seeing record numbers of visitors who contributed £750 million to the local economy.

The people of Northern Ireland have consistently reaffirmed their commitment to a future based on exclusively democratic and peaceful means.

The security situation no longer impacts on people’s daily lives in the ways that it once did … though I will say a little more about this in a second.

And, of course, policing here in Northern Ireland has made significant changes … with the Police Service of Northern Ireland now much more representative of, and more accountable, to the community it serves.

Security

But for all these changes I am conscious … as the person ultimately responsible for national security here … that the threat from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism remains severe, as it has done since March 2009.

Regrettably, there remains a small number of dissident republican terrorists who are contemptuous of the democratically expressed views of the people of this island, North and South, and who seek to pursue their objectives by violence.

And while they remain small in number they retain lethal intent and capability … with the main focus of their activities aimed at police officers, members of the prison service and the Armed Forces.

So I am acutely conscious of the strain that tackling the terrorist threat places on members of the PSNI and on your families.

And I want to put on record this Government’s heartfelt thanks for all the amazing work that you do to keep people here safe and secure.

The fact that more people in Northern Ireland are not directly affected by terrorism is down to your hard work and professionalism along with that of MI5 and the ammunition technical officers who continue to make safe so many explosive devices.

I also want to commend here the work of An Garda Siochana.

Cooperation between our two countries has never been better, resulting in the thwarting of a number of terrorist operations that has undoubtedly saved lives.

And that’s something we are determined will continue after the UK leaves the EU next year. UK Government support

But I appreciate that you can’t do all of this on your own.

And the UK Government has listened closely to the concerns that you and the Chief Constable have previously raised.

So let me give you this commitment. You will always have our fullest possible support … because we do recognise that tackling terrorism does come at a cost.

That’s why over the last eight years we have provided the PSNI with what it asked for in terms of additional security funding to help tackle the SEVERE threat from dissident republican terrorism … on top of the money provided by the Executive through the block grant..

Between 2011 and 2016 that amounted to over £230 million of additional security funding, And there’s an extra £160 million over the current spending review period. I know from my discussions with the Chief Constable that this has had a very real impact on the terrorist threat…

But it’s not just about the direct threat from terrorism.

This additional funding means that resources that the PSNI receives through the block grant are not diverted away from community policing into tackling the terrorist threat… so the money stays where it is needed.

We know how important it is to support policing across the board.

In addition, across the UK as a whole spending on all forms of counter-terrorism will increase by 30 per cent in real terms over this Parliament to £15.1bn.

And a joint security fund of £1.5 billion a year will help pay for increased capabilities for the military and intelligence agencies.

We do recognise the challenges you face … while we all have to recognise that the pressures on public finances across the United Kingdom remain very real.

With no Executive in place, I have taken some steps to to provide clarity and certainty around NI finances and deliver on the UK government’s responsibility for good governance in NI.

In March set out to Parliament on 8 March a budget position for this financial year that addresses the key pressures across public services, including an increase in cash terms for the Department of Justice.

But it’s not just about money.

We need to work collectively if we are to have a strategic impact. And that is what we are doing.

Largely as a result of your efforts … backed by the Government … the number of national security attacks here is down markedly from the 40 we saw in 2010.

But while that is welcome we can never afford to be complacent.

The need for vigilance will always remain paramount -we know that dissident republicans continue to plan attacks, even as I speak.

And that means constantly looking at new ways of ensuring we have the right tools for the job.

So, through the national Counter Terrorism Review … which was initiated by the Prime Minister after the terrorist attacks in England last year … we have been considering the range of powers that exist to tackle terrorism across the UK as a whole.

We’ve looked in great detail at whether or not these powers need to be augmented to support better law enforcement in a changing context.

And we’ve worked to ensure that lessons learned from the vast experience of law enforcement agencies in tackling the threat in Northern Ireland have informed the approach in Great Britain … and that any reforms arising from the Review will enhance your ability to tackle the threat here.

We are working closely with the PSNI to identify where we can help you and police officers right across the UK do your jobs more effectively … including by updating certain terrorism offences to reflect the realities of terrorism in the digital age.

And we’ve also listened carefully to the PSNI on the need to strengthen both the sentencing framework for terrorism and terrorism-related offences, and the powers for managing terrorist offenders following their release from custody.

So be in no doubt.

This Government is unwavering in our determination that terrorism here will never succeed. And the future of Northern Ireland will only ever be decided by democracy and consent … never by violence.

Paramilitary activity

We are also committed to working with a restored Executive to tackle effectively the blight of paramilitary activity and the malign grip that that these criminals exercise over their communities.

Those involved use the paramilitary cloak to spread intimidation and fear all in the cause of lining their own pockets.

So I also welcome the work you are carrying out alongside the National Crime Agency and HMRC, in the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce that was established following the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

And I look forward to the first report of the Independent Reporting Commission to be published this year.

As part of that Agreement the UK Government is providing additional resources of £25 million over five years … money that I am confident can help make a real difference. In recent months we have seen a number of successes in prosecuting people involved in paramilitary activity … and I thank you for that.

Paramilitary groups never had any justification in Northern Ireland and they have none today.

And collectively we need to work to ensure that their activities are ended for good … by preventing people from being lured into them in the first place … by helping communities to stand up to them … and by ensuring that more of them are put behind bars for longer.

Politics

I referred a moment ago to democracy and consent.

The principle of consent regarding Northern Ireland’s future was of course at the heart of the Agreement made twenty years ago.

And for our part the Government’s commitment to the Agreement remains steadfast. To the constitutional principles it sets out … to the political institutions it establishes … and to the rights it enshrines.

Along with its successor agreements it remains the bedrock of all the progress that has been made here in the past two decades.

It is therefore a matter of deep regret that after the seeing the longest period of unbroken devolved government since the 1960, Northern Ireland has now been without a functioning Executive since January last year.

I hardly need tell this audience of the strain that this is putting on public services, including the police service.

That’s why we need locally elected and locally accountable politicians back to work in Stormont taking decisions on behalf of the whole community … including in areas such as policing and criminal justice.

So I remain committed to working with parties here and, as appropriate, the Irish Government and to redoubling our efforts to see a return to effective, functioning devolved government at Stormont.

I believe it can be achieved … and that the issues preventing it happening should not be insurmountable.

But I recognise clear the current situation cannot go on indefinitely.

I hear the calls from across the community for decisions to be taken.

We are currently studying the judgement in the Buick case … and note the decision of the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to appeal it.

But in the continued absence of devolved government we will … as our manifesto at the last election made clear … do what is necessary to provide good governance, political stability and decision making if that is what is required.

Policing Board

One area where the lack of a functioning Executive directly affects policing in Northern Ireland is through its accountability structures … in particular no properly constituted Policing Board.

As a result the PSNI have not had the platform to engage and consult on a wide range of issues around how policing is delivered across Northern Ireland. In my discussions with political parties there is consensus on the importance of constituting the Policing Board as soon as possible.

Of course the restoration of devolution is the best way to resolve this issue, allowing a Policing Board to be appointed immediately.

But should that not prove possible then I am considering advice on how a Board could be constituted if the current political impasse continues.

One of the reasons why the PSNI commands very high levels of support from across the community is due to the accountability structures under which it operates.

And we cannot allow these hard fought and precious gains to be lost.

Legacy

Another area where I know you have a very keen interest … and where I want to make progress … is in addressing the legacy of the past.

I referred at the outset to the contribution of the security forces to ending the troubles and establishing the conditions for a peaceful future.

This government recognises the great efforts you and your colleagues have undertaken to carry out investigations professionally and independently in extremely challenging circumstances.

But the reality is that despite the achievements of the past twenty years for too many people the legacy of the troubles continues to cast a dark shadow over the present.

And there is a widespread view that the current processes for addressing the past are not working for anyone … for victims and survivors of the troubles and for those who policed the troubles.

Of course there is never going to be agreement on the past.

But what I do hope is that we can build consensus on how we can address it. And that’s why earlier this month we launched a public consultation on the legacy bodies contained in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

This is not the place to go into detail about the proposed legacy institutions. I hope everyone here will read the consultation … and I look forward to hearing the views not just of the Federation but of the wider policing family in Northern Ireland.

But I will say this.

I’m the first to admit that those bodies are not perfect … nothing ever can be. But I do believe that they have the potential to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors … so that society can move on and the PSNI are freed up to police the present rather than the past.

And those institutions will be under statutory obligations to operate in ways that are fair, balanced and, crucially, proportionate … so that they do not unfairly focus on former soldiers or police officers but reflect the fact that 90 per cent of killings in the troubles were by terrorists.

For our part we will always reject attempts to re-write the history of the troubles in ways that seek to justify or legitimise republican or loyalist terrorism.

And we will never accept moral equivalence between those who upheld the law and those who sought to destroy it.

For this Government the rule of law is paramount … and any approach to the past must be fully consistent with the rule of law.

Conclusion

Chairman,

I appreciate that all of us face a number of difficult and challenging issues … and I’ve set out some of those this morning.

And I haven’t even touched on Brexit … though I firmly believe that this offers a range of positive new opportunities for the United Kingdom as a whole.

For our part we are determined to protect the Belfast Agreement in all its parts … ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland … and preserve the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

Throughout this period of change I see one of the key roles of the UK Government to provide stability and certainty … which is why I passed a Budget at Westminster earlier this year

I profoundly hope and that devolution can be restored for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland.

And that includes dedicated and professional public servants like you.

Standing here today I am more conscious that ever of great debt to the Northern Ireland policing family.

For the contribution you have made in the past … and for what you do today helping to build a stronger and more secure Northern Ireland fit for the future.

You really are one of the great bulwarks for stability in our society.

And once again I thank you profoundly for all that you do.

 

From:
Northern Ireland Office
The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP

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