The terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland is classed as “severe” according to the latest security assessment, the Dáil has been told.
Minister of State for Justice James Browne said dissident paramilitary groups continue to focus their efforts primarily on targeting members of the security forces in the North.
But while the threat of attack from these groups in the State is generally considered to be low “they still present a real and persistent threat, carrying out fundraising and planning and preparatory activities to support attacks in Northern Ireland”.
The Minister was responding to Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond who warned that a Brexit hard border could be used as a recruitment tactic by paramilitary groups the New IRA and Continuity IRA who were increasingly co-operating with each other.
He said they would prey on disenfranchised youths on both sides of the Border, “fanning the flames of anger and violence which have been diminishing since the Good Friday Agreement”.
And he warned that loyalist paramilitary activity was increasing particularly around certain parts of Belfast.
Mr Richmond noted a report this week from the House of Commons intelligence and security committee on the risk of terrorism in the North. "The report found that a hard border would be highly likely to lead to an increase in terrorist attacks and any border structure would be a target for such attacks."
He pointed to the arrest in the summer by the PSNI of nine members of the New IRA. “These arrests led to sentencing of the effective army council of the New IRA,” but he said “the threat has not gone away”.
The Westminster report showed increasing co-operation between the leadership and membership of the New IRA and the Continuity IRA, he said. “While many people once referred to these dissident republican terrorists as disparate criminal gangs working sometimes against each other, this new level of co-ordination should not be taken for granted.”
And he said “dissident threats lie on both sides of the political divide”. The House of Commons report showed “loyalist paramilitary activity increasing, particularly around certain parts of Belfast”.
Mr Browne stressed that tackling the threat posed by dissident paramilitary groups “who seek to undermine peace on our island continues to be a priority of the Minister for Justice and this Government”.
He said it was recognised that Brexit might provide significant opportunities for subversives in the North to increase their activities and take advantage of the situation and low socioeconomic areas proved to be “fertile recruiting ground”.
Countering dissidents required a twin-track approach of a policing and justice response alongside a “comprehensive socioeconomic response addressing the systemic issues facing communities where the paramilitaries operate”.