Northern Ireland Secretary confirms dissident terrorists are recruiting online

April 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm 1 comment

by Tony Grew

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said the province’s police force are investigating reports that dissident groups are using “social networking sites, websites and blogs” to recruit young people.

Shaun Woodward told the Commons that he was aware of this new strategy.

“The site itself has vowed to remove materials that it considers illegal, defamatory or fraudulent or that infringe or violate any individual’s rights.

“There are clearly some legitimate concerns, and obviously the police will act if there is any evidence of activity of a criminal nature going on.”

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said that “a bad way of trying to convince young people to stay out of dissident violence is for some people to pretend that violence in the past was somehow morally justified or circumstantially different from the awful, brutal and futile violence now.

“It was always counter-productive—then and now—and young people see through hypocrisy and dishonesty when it comes from an older generation.”

Mr Woodward said the dissidents had “nothing to offer.”

Former NI Secretary Peter Hain said the dissident threat “was aimed not least at trying to torpedo the agreement between the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, and between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, on the programme and principle of the devolution of policing and justice.”

DUP MP William McCrea called for former members of the security forces to be “granted the right to hold personal protection weapons” given the increased terrorist threat.

Eddie McGrady from the SDLP warned that police officers may “withdraw from the communities that they serve, resulting in an increase in crime and antisocial behaviour … such withdrawal is understandable for personal protection purposes, but it has to be addressed.

“I ask the Secretary of State to use his best endeavours to ensure that that tendency and drift is stopped and reversed because it assists the recruitment of dissident republicans, including very young people, in my constituency.”

The Shadow Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, said:

“The most effective way in which to prevent young people from joining dissident groups is a strong legal deterrent, with a very real prospect of arrest and conviction.

“Under existing legislation, some individuals who are linked to terrorism and convicted of firearms offences have received only suspended sentences. Is the Secretary of State considering reviewing that legislation?”

Mr Woodward said he was open to a review but since the the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 “there has not been a significant increase in the numbers of people joining so-called dissident organisations, which we know to be criminal.

“That does not mean to say that—as with any regrettable gang culture—young, impressionable, alienated, albeit completely wrong-headed, people may feel disposed to be recruited to those gangs.

“We will take any measures that we can to discourage them—whether legislation, working with the Executive or other steps.”

LIb Dem spokesman Alistair Carmichael said community safety partnerships are vital in tackling the recruitment of young people to dissident republican groups.

Tory MP David Jones asked for an estimate of the size of membership of dissident political organisations in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State said there are three “so-called dissident political organisations, but it is difficult to estimate the number of members of them, except to say that they have extremely limited appeal because they reject both the peace process and the political process.”

Mr Jones asked about the drug dealing activities of dissident paramilitaries “who pretend to protect the communities in which they were operating.”

Mr Woodward said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) “continues to be extremely successful in bearing down on all kinds of criminal activity, including that from so-called dissident paramilitary groups.

“It is essential for the House to remember that the funding of those so-called dissident groups—they are also, of course, criminal—comes from criminal activity. We will pursue them rigorously.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Secretary of State “has admitted that the security forces do not even know the primary people involved in dissident organisations, let alone what attacks they are planning.”

He claimed that the disbandment of the special branch of the RUC (the forerunner of the PSNI) meant that “intelligence sources have been lost and we are now in the dark about what dissidents are likely to do and what attacks they are likely to plan.”

Mr Woodward disagreed.

“We should recognise the number of attacks that they have stopped and the number of people who have not died because of their work, which was important not only 10 or 20 years ago, but continues to be important today.

” We are determined to bear down on those people.”

MPs from all parties paid tribute to Sir Hugh Orde, who is to stand down as Chief Constable of the PSNI after seven years.

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  • 1. Pages tagged "legitimate"  |  April 27, 2009 at 5:23 am

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