MI5 and PSNI to be separate, Blair confirms

10 January 2007

British intelligence services MI5 will operate separately from the PSNI under new security arrangements proposed for the North, British prime minister Tony Blair confirmed today.

In a written statement to MPs designed to help Sinn Féin endorse the police in Northern Ireland for the first time in the party's history, Mr Blair said that MI5 and the PSNI would be completely distinct and separate bodies.

He insisted no police officers would be seconded to or under the control of MI5.

All necessary interaction on issues such as international terrorism between the two organisations would be by way of liaison, with a small number of police officers based at PSNI headquarters in contact with the security service.

"The small number of police officers who act in a liaison capacity with the Security Service will be PSNI Headquarters staff acting in that role for fixed time-limited periods to the extent that the Chief Constable deems necessary for them to perform their duties," Mr Blair said in the statement.

"Policing is the responsibility solely of the PSNI. The Security Service will have no role whatsoever in civic policing.

"Leadership and direction of all police work is the responsibility of the Chief Constable who will remain accountable to the Policing Board.

"All PSNI officers will be employed by the PSNI and will be accountable solely to the Chief Constable and to the Policing Board and upon transfer to the Ministers for Justice."

Sinn Féin's spokesman on justice and policing, Gerry Kelly, said that the proposal's would go a long way towards achieving "a new beginning on policing".

Mr Kelly said: "Our [Sinn Féin] objective has been to firewall local policing from the malign and corruptive control of MI5".

"For decades people across this island have suffered enormously as a result of the activities of MI5, which has been responsible for collusion and state sponsored killings in Dublin and Monaghan and across the north.

"The proposals today remove MI5 from policing structures in Ireland".

Mr Blair also announced that the Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, would retain her statutory powers to hold to account all police officers and have access to all information held by the police.

But he added: "The Ombudsman's office and the security service will agree arrangements for the Ombudsman's access to sensitive information held by the service, where necessary for the discharge of the Ombudsman's statutory duties."

Mr Blair also announced plans to invite Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, to review annually the operation of the new national security arrangements which are due to come into effect in Northern Ireland later this year.

"In the course of his review, he will consult the Chief Constable, the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman, as well as taking into account any views which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and, in due course, Justice Ministers may put to him," he said.

But SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Mr Blair's statement would limit the ability of the Police Ombudsman to investigate national security issues. He also argued that MI5's role would not be restricted to national security.

"MI5 will still be taking over work on national security and it's not just on international terror but home-grown paramilitaries too," be said. "A careful reading of the statement today — along with other indications — confirms this. And let's be clear, this supposed 'separation formula' will damage accountability.

"The fact is that the Police Ombudsman can investigate national security matters now. When MI5 takes over, she will not be able to - and will have no power to make them give her information.

"So when anybody has cause for concern or complaint about national security intelligence-gathering, unlike now there will be nobody credible to turn to."

Mr Durkan accused Sinn Féin of seeking a "short-term fig leaf" in the British prime minister's statement but warned that in the long term the British government would be in control.

"None of this is to say that Sinn Féin should not sign up to policing.They owe it to victims of crime to work with the police. "But they also owe it to the public to be honest about MI5 and should be working with us to get these problems resolved."