PSNI will continue to control informers

11 January 2007

Most terrorist informers will continue to be run by PSNI handlers, police have confirmed in the wake of Tony Blair's announcement about MI5's role in Northern Ireland.

The PSNI will also see all MI5 intelligence, will be told about all MI5 operations, and will conduct arrests for the security service under arrangements that remain intact after Mr Blair's statement.

The Prime Minister dumped plans to integrate PSNI officers into MI5, where they would have acted as analysts when the security service takes responsibility for national security in Northern Ireland later this year.

The announcement - reversing part of the St Andrews Agreement - was seen as an attempt to help Sinn Fein through their proposed, but still unconfirmed, ard fheis on support for the PSNI.

Sinn Fein welcomed the decision, saying that as a result of their negotiations "MI5 will have no part in policing in the north".

The Prime Minister said MI5 will "have no role whatsoever in civic policing" and contact between the two organisations will be undertaken only through liaison officers based at PSNI headquarters in east Belfast.

However, some of the arrangements unveiled in the St Andrews Agreement, including five principles which Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde identified as " key" accountability arrangements, remain in place.

They include the promise that the "great majority" of national security informers "will continue to be run by PSNI officers under existing police handling protocols".

Informed sources said that amounts to hundreds of informers.

It appears that under the new arrangements, intelligence gathered by police handlers will be passed to MI5 through the liaison officers and the strategic direction of those informers will be passed back from MI5 to the police handlers.

The other principles require MI5 to show the PSNI all intelligence " relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland" and inform police about " all security service counter terrorist investigations and operations relating to Northern Ireland".

Downing Street also confirmed that police will still carry out arrest operations on behalf of MI5.

"The five principles have not been changed by the Prime Minister's announcement," a PSNI spokesman said.

Police have described the principles as key safeguards to ensure MI5 accountability and human rights considerations.

The St Andrews Agreement said Sir Hugh identified the principles as "as crucial to the effective operation of the new arrangements".

In the wake of yesterday's announcement, Sinn Fein and the SDLP clashed over whether the Prime Minister's announcement would make MI5 more accountable.

DUP spokesman Ian Paisley Jnr called the changes "cosmetic".