Stretched M15 told to redouble efforts against Real IRA

22 May 2006

MI5 HAS been ordered to double its resources in Northern Ireland to combat dissident republicans, despite being criticised for lacking the manpower to monitor Islamic extremists.

More than a fifth of MI5's total resources is being devoted to Irish counter-terrorism as the service prepares to take over from police the prime responsibility for countering the dissident terrorist threat from next year.

Substantial funds and manpower will be tied up in the Province even though the Provisional IRA has supposedly disarmed and committed itself to the political process, and the leadership of the dissident groups has been disrupted by intelligence operations.

The service has been ordered by the Government to devote resources to the Province despite political pressure to use as much of its surveillance expertise and technical capability as possible to uncover the threat posed by home-grown terrorists inspired by or affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative homeland security spokesman, said yesterday he was staggered that so much of MI5's available resources were being used to deal with a terrorist threat "that seems to be largely quiescent at a time when the United Kingdom is facing such a huge threat from international terrorism"

. He added: "The Provisional IRA in full flood, when it was mounting attacks on the mainland, killed relatively small numbers of civilians, but potentially the next Islamic terrorist attack in this country could cause hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. It's vital that as large a proportion of MI5's resources are devoted to this threat as possible."

At present, just over half of MI5's resources are spent on international counter-terrorism out of a budget estimated at £200 million. Of an additional 12 per cent, much of that is allocated towards providing security advice for government departments, national utilities, business and industry.

The political decision to give MI5 primacy over the Police Service of Northern Ireland in countering the limited threat from the Real IRA and Continuity IRA was taken before the suicide bomb attacks in London on July 7 last year.

The announcement of the change in arrangements in the Province was made in February last year by Paul Murphy, who was then Northern Ireland Secretary. It was Mr Murphy, in his new role as chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, who said that if MI5 had had more resources for countering international terrorism it might have thwarted the July 7 bombers.

However, since the bombings, MI5 has been trying to divert as much of its resources towards countering the threat from radical Islamic terrorism. Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, Director-General of MI5, announced this month that the agency had suspended all work on the prevention and detection of serious crime.

She said: "We are now faced by an unprecedented level of priority casework on international terrorism. The resources freed up will help to reinforce our work on international terrorism."

Security sources said that the extra resources now needed for Northern Ireland were necessary to take on the new responsibility. They pointed out that loyalist terrorist groups also needed to be monitored, and that there had been two recent cases in the Province that allegedly involved international terrorism.

DANGER MONEY

52% of M15's budget goes on international counter-terrorism
21% on Irish counter-terrorism
12% on security advice
6.5% on counter-espionage
3% on countering nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation 
2.5% on serious crime now goes on international counter-terrorism 
2% on external assistance
1% on emerging threats