Concern over MI5 expanded role

15 February 2006

The SDLP and Sinn Féin have expressed concern about an expanded role for British intelligence service MI5 scheduled for late next year.


SDLP leader Mark Durkan is to raise the issue with British prime minister Tony Blair when he meets him in the House of Commons this afternoon after it was reported that MI5 is to move from Stormont to the British army Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down. This is in preparation for MI5 taking over the lead role from the PSNI for British national security.

In effect, this could mean MI5 rather than the PSNI having main responsibility for agents whose information is viewed as being useful in protecting British national security.

PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde said yesterday that his primary function would be combating crime and that therefore his officers would handle republican and loyalist agents who could provide intelligence in this area. But in an interview with the BBC yesterday he confirmed that MI5 would have the lead role in relation to national security.

He would have sole responsibility for loyalist agents as they were solely involved in crime. But he added that in relation to republican agents there would be a division of responsibilities, with MI5 responsible for national security issues and the PSNI dealing with republican criminality.

Mr Orde described this change as a "very healthy split" of responsibilities.

Mr Durkan, however, said he was very concerned at the proposals.

"While the British government gives with one hand, with technical legislation facilitating the devolution of justice and policing, it is taking away with the other by removing intelligence gathering from the PSNI and giving it to the faceless men of MI5.

"This weakens accountability. It is bad for policing and bad for politics. It must be challenged," he added.