14 March 2006

MI5 to lead anti-terror watch in Northern Ireland


MONDAY 13/03/2006 18:12:18

Anti-terror intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland must be brought into line with the rest of the UK, the Government said today.

The international nature of terrorism meant the security services (MI5) should now take primacy over the police force, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said.

"Modern terrorism is an international phenomenon which Northern Ireland needs to be protected from," he told MPs.

The police would retain control over "operational" matters, but he added "we cannot address national security on a regional basis."

The change reflected the increasing "normalisation of life, security and politics" in Northern Ireland.

Some MPs said the security services were already "over-stretched" and adding Northern Ireland to their remit would only make things worse.

But Mr Hain said the question of resources was different to ensuring a consensus existed on the principle of the change, which he believed existed.

The measure is included in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which also paves the way for policing and justice to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

While not legislating for such devolution, it opens the door for the Northern Ireland Assembly to take over policing powers at a later date, "when the circumstances are right."

Mr Hain said 2006 was a "crucial year" for Northern Ireland and the legislation is "preparing Northern Ireland for the many varied challenges that lie ahead. There should be no legislative obstacle in the way of devolution."

The Northern Ireland Assembly will be given powers to add a local charge for policing, similar to the police precept in England and Wales.

The wide-ranging Bill also covers electoral and energy reform.

The Northern Ireland Secretary will acquire the power to bring forward the date of the 2007 assembly elections if it will help the process of re-establishing the assembly.

Voters in Northern Ireland will no longer have to register every year - instead resources previously used for the annual canvas will be directed at those under-represented on the electoral roll.

New laws governing donations to political parties will "introduce greater openness", Mr Hain said.

The Electoral Commission will check donations privately from November 2007 and if an illegal donation has been made it will be made public.

The Bill also includes provision to create a wholesale electricity market for the island of Ireland and provision to facilitate the funding of sustainable energy development in Northern Ireland.

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