Police board not seeing IRA intelligence ‘due to Sinn Fein advocacy’, says former senior PSNI official
Former Deputy Police Chief Alan McQuillan was speaking to the News Letter after it reported that the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) – set up to respond to outrage over the murder of Kevin McGuigan by the IRA in 2015 – investigating the UVF, UDA and INLA – but ironically not the IRA.
The PSNI disclosed the information in a freedom of information request. He told the News Letter that the PCTF only fights terrorist groups that do not pose a national security risk.
The PSNI explained that the groups that pose a threat to national security, PIRA and dissident Republicans, are dealt with by the Security Service or MI5, in conjunction with the PSNI’s Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU).
But DUP leader on the police board, Trevor Clarke, told the News Letter last week that his party and a senior member of the board had never heard of the TIU and had never had a briefing about it. .
Now, former ACC Alan McQuillan has explained how the apparent blind spot in the Police Board’s oversight of NI police came to light.
He said that as part of the negotiations to join the police board, SF had demanded that the police board not monitor the activity of the security service in order to appease its supporters – that it not be contaminated by the spying on PIRA or dissidents.
There was a desire not to put themselves in that position and the government didn’t want to put them in that position where they would have to oversee intelligence gathering against the IRA.
“These arrangements date back to the early 2000s,” he told the News Letter. “When we moved from the old system where the police led all intelligence, there were two driving forces. The first was that the national [policing] system had changed. The responsibility for counter-intelligence on terrorism had been given to the Security Service, which worked with the national command specialized in the fight against terrorism within the police. There was a desire to replicate this in Northern Ireland to make the NI system consistent with the rest of the UK.
“And the second problem was that there was a fear that it would be extremely difficult for Sinn Fein to join the Police Board to get into a situation where they were overseeing the collection of intelligence against people within the republican movement at large.
“And so there was a confluence of interests to come up with this new model which turned out to be extremely effective – let’s be clear – in terms of the impact it had on dissenters, it really worked. But there was the feeling that, from what I understood, in the negotiations these changes were being made as part of the package that led to Sinn Fein joining the Police Board.
Some trade unionists complain that there is a steady stream of publicity from the PSNI about successful operations against loyalist crime, but none about actions against PIRA crime – the PSNI having reported that IRA members are still engaged in large-scale smuggling, as well as other crimes. .
Mr McQuillan says it is “the police chief’s business” and adds that it is one thing to gather intelligence but quite another to secure convictions.
But he says it is abundantly clear that while MI5 is not accountable to the Police Board, the PSNI TIU is and should appear if asked.
“It is clear that the terrorist group (TIU) operating within the PSNI is accountable to the Police Board and therefore is open to the Police Board if they choose to request it, to realize what is happening the low. And if they didn’t, it’s because the board didn’t ask for it.
He added that MI5 has done “a blinding job against dissidents here, bringing people to court”.
“The question is what is happening on the other side in terms of organized crime? It’s about making it visible and making sure it’s done as well as it’s done on the Paramilitary Crime Task Force side.
He has previously said publicly that his job as head of the Asset Recovery Agency seemed somewhat frustrated.
“We have always been criticized because a lot of our work was against the loyalists. I think that was a fair criticism and I’ve raised it many times, but we’ve found it very difficult to get the Republican cases referred to us. We had a few, but I think there was a real problem at this point and people were trying desperately, I think, to make sure that the peace process was anchored and I think we have to look back and say, overall and over time, this strategy has worked.
“But at the same time, we are left with a residue on both sides.”
A Police Board spokeswoman said: ‘Oversight arrangements relating to national security matters and the Board’s oversight role have been set out in Annex E of the St Andrew’s Accord.’
Sinn Fein was also asked to comment.
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