MI5, PSNI and NIO worried about Provo defections

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MI5, the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) believe there is a “real risk” of former Provos defecting to various dissident republican groups opposed to the peace process and bringing their expertise with them.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers acknowledged as much during a recent briefing of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

She was asked about the danger of veteran republicans hitherto supportive of the peace process joining the ranks of the dissidents.

North Down MP and Committee member Sylvia Hermon asked her: “On the dissident threat in Northern Ireland - because I can see that, in fact, time is marching on - just how concerned are you about the leakage from the Provisional IRA to dissident republicans?”

Ms Villiers responded: “As I said when you raised this in Parliament, there is real risk there.

“That is one of the many reasons why it is vital that we see these paramilitary organisations disband.”

Speaking last October in the House of Commons she said one of the main worries was the potential terrorist expertise republican defectors would bring with them.

“Naturally, the risk of seepage between the Provisional IRA and dissident republican groups is always a risk about which our intelligence services and the PSNI are acutely aware.

“One of the reasons these groupings remain a threat to national security is the danger that their expertise might find its way into the hands of dissident republicans. That is a risk that we all need to be aware of,” she said.

During last month’s Committee briefing the Secretary of State told the North Down independent unionist that getting rid of loyalist and republican paramilitaries would not be easy.

“It takes a broadly‑based strategy,” she said.

“It is important to have programmes to persuade young people not to engage with these bodies.

“We need to build on the kind of work done by excellent organisations in your constituency, who work to aid those who are in transition away from that kind of activity, as well.

“We also need to be rigorous in the way other organisations are given public funding, to make absolutely sure none of that could possibly be misused, or find its way into the wrong hands.

“Also, there is the declaration agreed in the Fresh Start Agreement between all of Northern Ireland’s politicians, making it clear that paramilitary activity will never be tolerated and that it will be actively challenged.

“I feel very confident that there will come a day when these organisations disband, but it is a long, difficult process.”