15 March 2006

US politicians are alarmed over MI5 role - Durkan


Irish American politicians are alarmed about MI5 assuming the lead role in intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland next year, it was claimed tonight.

By:Press Association

After meeting members of the Friends of Ireland lobby group in the US Congress, nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan said he was impressed by their grasp of the issue.

"At our meeting we were struck by how well informed and concerned leading Irish American Congressmen were about Tony Blair`s plans to give the faceless men of MI5 an enlarged role in the north (of Ireland)," the Foyle MP said in Washington.

"They saw clearly through the spin being peddled by Peter Hain that this was compatible with Patten.

"They realise, in fact, that it was turning Patten on its head and they committed to raise their concerns with the British Government.

"Patten put in place a Police Ombudsman and the Policing Board to keep a close and watchful eye on the police.

"Handing intelligence gathering over to MI5 takes this vital work beyond their reach.

"It means creating a force outside the police force of faceless men who cannot be held to real account."

The SDLP and Sinn Fein have been highly critical of plans to let MI5 take the lead role in the running of agents and informers in Northern Ireland.

Mr Durkan has argued it waters down police reforms because the intelligence agency, unlike the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is not accountable to Northern Ireland`s Policing Board or the Police Ombudsman.

The proposal is contained in a Northern Ireland omnibus Bill currently winding its way through the House of Commons which also promises to transfer policing and justice powers from Westminster to a future administration at Stormont.

During a debate on the legislation in Westminster on Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain insisted the move to give MI5 supremacy was designed to bring the province into line with the rest of the UK.

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

Mr Hain said the police would retain control over operational matters but he added: "We cannot address national security on a regional basis."

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

Mr Durkan said: "Irish American Congressmen saw that this would be bad for law enforcement and bad for public confidence and gave strong backing to our campaign to have this retrograde ruse stopped."

Among the Congressmen Mr Durkan met were New York Republican Representative Peter King, Massachusetts Democrat Representative Richie Neal and Californian Republican Representative Elton Gallegly.

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