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Villiers says loyalist groups 'still committed to peace'

Published 31/01/2014

John Manley Political Reporter

Loyalist paramilitaries continue to be involved in criminality but the UVF and UDa leaderships are committed to peace, the secretary of state has told MPs. Theresa Villiers yesterday updated the House of Commons on the security situation in Northern Ireland. although the first month of this year has been comparatively quiet, the months leading up to Christmas saw an increase in violent activity by both loyalists and dissident republicans. in December dissidents launched attacks in Belfast including shooting at police near the Twaddell protest camp in the north of the city and two attempted bombings in the city centre. the UVF meanwhile was blamed for shooting Jemma McGrath in east Belfast in september. the 24-year-old was shot five times in an attack widely believed to have been ordered by a leading paramilitary figure. the UVF in Belfast has also been accused of orchestrating riots and glorifying terrorism through the erection of flags and murals. the secretary of state told MPs there had been 30 "national security" attacks in the north in 2013, more than half of which took place between october and December.

But Ms Villiers said the threat level was the same as her last update in July 2013.

"The threat continues to be tackled and suppressed and there have been some significant successes by the security forces which should bring both immediate and longer term benefits," she said. the Conservative MP said individuals associated with loyalist groups were involved in a range of criminality, including paramilitary assaults, organised crime, such as drug dealing, and intimidation. she also pointed to "continued tensions" within and between the UVF and UDA as a cause for concern.

"During 2013 we have witnessed loyalist-related public disorder including protests and security incidents that have taken place outside the offices of democratically elected representatives," she said.

"there have also been attempts by paramilitaries to gain greater influence and control within loyalist communities."

However, Ms Villiers said based on security assessments the "collective leaderships" of the UDA and UVF remained committed to the peace process and reform of their organisations. she said the group known as the "new IRA" continued to pose a significant threat and had repeatedly "demonstrated its lethal intent".

"in the north west the group has been responsible for a number of low-level attacks as well as an attempted mortar attack on a PsNi station," she said.

"in Belfast they have claimed responsibility for the murder of Kevin Kearney, and conducted a shooting attack against police." she said oglaigh na hEireann (oNH) was particularly active in the latter half of 2013, "demonstrating both its recklessness and its lethal intent" with IED (improvised explosive device) attacks against commercial premises, shootings and attacks on PSNI officers.

Ms Villiers said the Continuity IRA had continued to splinter into competing factions, several of which posed a localised threat.