The terror threat level in Northern Ireland has increased from “substantial” to “severe” meaning an attack is highly likely, the government has said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the House of Commons that the decision was made by MI5, independent of ministers.
In a written ministerial statement he said: “MI5 has increased the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism from ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ (an attack is likely) to ‘SEVERE’ (an attack is highly likely).
“The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).”
The cabinet minister said while Northern Ireland has transformed into a peaceful society since the Troubles, “a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence”.
He said recent months have seen an “increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers” – pointing to the attempted murder of DCI Caldwell.
He went into pay tribute to the “tremendous efforts” of the police in Northern Ireland and security partners adding: “The political future of Northern Ireland rests with the democratic will of the people and not the violent actions of the few.
“Together we will ensure there is no return to the violence of the past.”
The UK has five terror threat levels which are:
• Low – an attack is highly unlikely
• Moderate – an attack is possible, but not likely
• Substantial – an attack is likely – this is the UK’s national threat level
• Severe – an attack is highly likely
• Critical – an attack is highly likely in the near future
Last March the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland was lowered from “severe” to “substantial”, marking the first reduction in 12 years.
The national threat level to the whole of the UK remains at substantial, meaning an attack is likely.
The change to Northern Ireland’s status comes ahead of a planned visit by US President Joe Biden to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the region after decades of violence.
Addressing the increased terror threat, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said it is part of an “ongoing process of monitoring the threat level in Northern Ireland, which is conducted by MI5”.
He added: “We will relentlessly pursue those who seek to cause harm and terrorise our communities, and attack my officers and staff, and I pay tribute to them as they continue to deliver for our communities.
“I would also like to thank the community and political leaders of Northern Ireland for their overwhelming support for the Police Service in recent times.
“We will not be deterred from delivering a visible, accessible and responsive community focused policing service to keep people safe.”