Resurgence of violence in Ireland leads to questions about MI5 intelligence gathering
The Police Federation of Northern Ireland has attributed 49 bomb incidents and 32 shooting incidents to dissident republicans since the beginning of the year; so far this year, on both sides of the border, there have been 155 arrests and 46 charges related to militant republican activities compared with 108 arrests and 17 charges in the whole of 2009; law enforcement authorities in Northern Ireland complain about an alleged lack of information from MI5 about increasingly active republican groups
The "troubles" return // Source: dailymail.co.uk
The level of violence in Northern Ireland has dropped considerably since the days of The Troubles, but there are worrying signs of low-level violence returning.
Police in Northern Ireland and counter-terrorism analysts the other day voiced fears that a lack of good intelligence is allowing a spate of terror attacks by dissident republicans, including a bombing on Saturday that injured three children in Lurgan, County Armagh.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is “extremely concerned” about an alleged lack of information from MI5 about increasingly active republican groups, while Margaret Ritchie, leader of the nationalist SDLP, on Monday said it was “very clear that MI5 is not up to the task of leading intelligence-gathering in the north”.
The Guardian’s Robert Booth writes that the Police Federation of Northern Ireland has attributed 49 bomb incidents and 32 shooting incidents to dissident republicans since the beginning of the year. There is particular concern at the activities of Oglaigh na Héireann (Volunteers of Ireland), thought to have been formed by members of the Real IRA. The group this month claimed responsibility for a car bomb in Derry, and is thought to work with the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA.
Ritchie said there was “no evidence that MI5 puts a high priority on the dissident threat beyond providing some signals and background intelligence,” and called for an urgent meeting with Brian Cowen, the Irish Taoiseach and Owen Paterson, secretary of state for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland office insisted the police and MI5 are working closely and David Ford, the Northern Ireland justice minister, last night said he had been assured by the PSNI’s chief constable, Matt Baggott, “that he continues to receive the fullest possible cooperation from MI5, the Garda Síochána and increasingly from the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.”
Booth notes that Saturday’s bombing followed only a vague warning, and Baggott last week warned that dissident groups are growing increasingly dangerous and could carry out a repeat of the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people and unborn twins.
“They have no solution for the future, only to go back to the past, and they are bringing that recklessness increasingly to our streets,” he said. “They are dangerous. We need to be realistic about them and keep them firmly on the back foot.”
“The PSNI and the security service [MI5] work very closely together sharing information, as the PSNI commander in Lurgan, where the no-warning bomb exploded, has confirmed,” said a spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland office. “So far this year, on both sides of the border, there have been 155 arrests and 46 charges compared with 108 arrests and 17 charges in the whole of 2009.”
Concern over the quality of intelligence comes after MI5 was given “primacy” in intelligence-gathering over the police in Northern Ireland following the St. Andrews agreement in 2006, when Sinn Fein agreed to support the police, courts and rule of law. Large parts of the police service’s system of touts and informants were dismantled, with many being paid off amid concern that the system encouraged collusion between police and criminal elements.
“At the time it was relatively quiet, but I suspect the baby has been thrown out with the bath water,” said Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the House of Commons’ subcommittee on counter-terrorism. “The continuity IRA and the Real IRA are relatively well-known, but the emergence of the new group is more difficult. They are experienced and well-armed and they probably haven’t been penetrated as well as the other organizations.”
“As far as I am concerned we are getting all the information,” said Police Federation chairman Terry Spence. “If it turns out to be the case that we are not, then that will be a very worrying situation and we will relook at it. But currently we have no evidence to say the PSNI is being deprived of information.”
Last week Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister, claimed secret talks had taken place in the last few weeks between the dissident groups and British and Republic of Ireland officials, communications which were denied by Paterson.