Westminster Committee asks if Northern Ireland terrorists should face 'annihilation'

The chairman of Parliament's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has asked if paramilitaries who refuse to embrace a peaceful political future should face "annihilation".

Simon Hoare's suggestion was quickly ruled out by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

The Westminster committee is undertaking an inquiry into the effect of paramilitary activity and organised crime on society in Northern Ireland.

It comes as police investigate last month's shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell by the New IRA and a number of recent bomb attacks by dissident republican groups.

MPs asked Mr Heaton-Harris about how the government was tackling paramilitary terrorist activity.

The committee chairman, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare, pointed out that 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed many paramilitaries had "transitioned" to a non-violent role.

He asked the Secretary of State whether that those who still refused to do likewise should face the toughest response.

"There's been 25 years to transition, and those that haven't would seem to me the hardest nuts to crack," he said.

"When do we draw the line, when do you draw the line, when does the PSNI draw the line on transitioning and just do a crackdown and annihilation?"

Mr Heaton-Harris, though, quickly said the suggestion was a non-runner: "I'm pretty sure a crackdown and annihilation is not where police tactics would go, and I'm pretty sure the reaction would be not one we would wish to see."

The committee also heard concerns about the apparent increase in paramilitary groups using money-lending to exert control over people suffering economic hardship. MPs were told that paramilitaries were targeting those using food banks or waiting on Universal Credit payments.

The Secretary of State said that the line between terrorist activity and organised crime was often blurred.

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