Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice the number of convictions tied to dissident paramilitary activity that have been processed in each of the years 2015 to 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16409/21]
788. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide an assessment on the threat of dissident paramilitary activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16410/21]
789. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice the engagements she has had with the Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to cooperation to target dissident paramilitary activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16411/21]
790. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice the engagements she has had with the UK Home Secretary on co-operation to target dissident paramilitary activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16412/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 787 to 790, inclusive, together.
As the Deputy will appreciate, protecting the State and the people from terrorism is one of the highest priorities for the Government and for me as Minister for Justice. The level of threat is kept under constant and active review by An Garda Síochána.
With regard to the threat from paramilitary groups, including the so-called ‘dissident’ groups, while the threat of attack from these groups in the State is generally considered to be low, they nonetheless remain very active here to support attacks in Northern Ireland. Therefore Garda activities to disrupt and prevent actions by these groups continue without cease.
The Gardaí also maintain a high level of ongoing, close co-operation with the PSNI and relevant security services in managing this threat. This operational relationship is central to bearing down on and disrupting the activities of these groups and, therefore, to maintaining security on the island. My officials also maintain ongoing contact with their UK and Northern Ireland counterparts on a regular basis on this and a range of other issues.
There have been a number of successful joint operations between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and this work is a testament to the perseverance of the services in seeking to combat terrorist activity on the Island.
With regard to the request for statistics setting out the annual number of convictions tied to dissident paramilitary activity, I hope the Deputy will appreciate that it is not possible to provide such statistics. There are inextricable links between the paramilitary groups and organised crime to the point that in some respects it can be difficult to separate them entirely, and it is thus not possible to definitively identify convictions associated with dissident paramilitary activity.
The Offences Against the State Acts are Ireland’s primary counter-terrorism legislation and statistics are publicly available with regard to these Acts. The Courts Service Annual Report provides statistics, including details of proceedings before the Special Criminal Court under the Offences Against the State Act. It must however be noted that prosecutions under that legislation are not solely concerned with dissident paramilitary activity.
The Deputy will also be aware that information relating to certain provisions of the Offences Against the State Act is laid before the Houses annually as part of the renewal process for these sections. This information is contained in the Report on the Operation of Sections 2 to 4, 6 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, pursuant to Section 18(3) of that Act, and it is publicly available in the Oireachtas library. The most recent report provides data from the year 2000 to 31 May 2020.
In terms of recent political engagement, I can inform the Deputy that I had a meeting with the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel last month on a range of issues, including law enforcement cooperation and security matters. I also met last year with Minister James Brokenshire, Minister of State at the UK Home Office with responsibility for Security. I have had several meetings to date with the Minister for Justice Naomi Long, which involved discussions on security and police cooperation matters and our Departments also jointly hosted the 18th Cross Border Organised Crime conference, which was held virtually last December.