UK intelligence agency reduces Northern Ireland terrorism threat level News
© WikiMedia (William Murphy)
UK intelligence agency reduces Northern Ireland terrorism threat level

MI5, the UK’s intelligence and security agency, announced Wednesday a significant reduction in the terrorism threat level for Northern Ireland (NI)-related terrorism, lowering the threat level from “severe” to “substantial.” The reduction indicates that an attack from NI is now considered likely rather than highly likely. This adjustment, announced independently of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) or the government, marks a notable shift in the security landscape of the region.

Responsibility for setting the NI terrorism threat level has been placed with MI5 since 2010. MI5 reviews this threat level every six months in an attempt to reflect the current security situation, with levels ranging from low to critical. The assessment of the threat level encompasses various factors such as available intelligence, terrorist capability, intentions and timescale. The threat level reflects the likelihood of an attack in the near term, acknowledging the varying timelines involved in attack planning.

Dissident republican terrorist groups, including the new IRA, Continuity IRA (CIRA), Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH), and Arm na Poblacht (ANP), represent the most significant threat to national security in NI. MI5 claims these groups oppose the peace process and have often resorted to methods of violence to achieve their political aims.

Since 2000, dissident republicans have carried out attacks in the UK, resulting in fatalities including two PSNI officers, two British soldiers and two prison officers between 2009 and 2017. On March 28, 2023, MI5 raised the threat level to severe in response to escalating violence and heightened activity within dissident republican circles. This response was partially underscored by a gun attack on police officer John Caldwell in February 2023.

The current reduction, nearly one year later, marks the lowest point in threat levels since 2010. Home Secretary for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris praised the reduction as a testament to the “tremendous efforts” of both the PSNI and MI5. Heaton-Harris said, “This positive step reflects the commitment of communities from across Northern Ireland to build a safer place to live and work.”

Moving forward, the work of the PSNI and MI5 in countering terrorism remains ongoing, with the threat level set to be “kept under constant review.” Moreover, the PSNI is advising officers to remain “vigilant,” despite the reduction, to ensure the safety and security of the NI community.