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National Security Arrangements: Northern Ireland

Volume 627: debated on Monday 17 July 2017

This is a summary of the main findings from the report by His Honour Brian Barker QC, the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland, covering the period from June 2016 to 31 December 2016. His Honour Brian Barker concludes:

“I was appointed by the Secretary of State in May 2016. I have spent time obtaining an overview of institutions, personalities and problems. I have been fully briefed on the security situation. I received presentations from MI5 on the practical effect of co-operation and exchange of intelligence. My visits to various PSNI establishments and to MI5 left an impression of deep commitment and professionalism. Strong cross-border links continue with An Garda Siochana, resulting in effective co-operation and impressive disruption.

The aim of a more stable society, where the effect of local terrorism has a decreasing impact, seemed to have made some progress through 2016 despite a picture of continuing terrorist threat. It is clear, however, that police and prison officers face high risks both on and off duty. The context in which national security activities are performed have been described in the past as challenging, and continue to be so.

In preparing this report I have considered the current threat level, and what I have learned of events of a terrorist nature during the year. The number of shooting incidents related to the security situation for the 12 month period was 49, almost identical to that in 2015, while the number of bombing incidents, 27, was exactly half that recorded in 2015. There were six security/paramilitary related deaths in the period to December 31 2016. This was three times the number of the previous year.

The overall threat is real and enduring and broadly unchanged despite each recognisable group being somewhat disrupted and there being some relaxation of attitude in some communities. The exchange of intelligence and the evident co-operation between authorities continues to make inroads. As in recent years there have been successes and considerable effort devoted to containing and disrupting dissident groups. Nevertheless, planning and targeting continues and attacks occur. The threat from those released from custodial sentences and those given bail continue to present a challenge.

Dissident republican groupings remain interested and involved in criminality, organised crime, and money laundering. They express political purpose, either with conviction or because it is necessary so as to obscure criminality. Loyalist paramilitaries claim political allegiance, although the motivation of many is crime and control through intimidation and violence.

Throughout 2016 I met a range of stakeholders. Representatives of the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB), the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) and the Committee on Administration of Justice (CAJ) raised concerns about the use, control and reporting of covert human intelligence sources (“CHIS”) and whether, for example, any CHIS were working without PSNI knowledge. This area that has been reviewed in the past and I will review it in the coming year in light of the new Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

My meeting with the NIPB’s Independent Human Rights Advisor, Alyson Kilpatrick, fortified my predecessor’s high regard for her, and the important role she plays.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, briefed me on some operational problems inherent in the prosecution of alleged terrorists. The deficiencies in the administration of criminal justice and the limited progress in case management are all too obvious. Applications for disclosure in major terrorism trials and the need for appropriate balance, continue to present problems. Tightening the criminal justice system by streamlining criminal justice processes and faster committal proceedings would increase public confidence.

A topic raised by several politicians was the extent of the activities, as well as the remit, of the National Crime Agency (NCA). The NCA’s Head of Investigations informed me NCA officers in Northern Ireland can only exercise constabulary powers or undertake covert investigatory activity with the agreement of the Chief Constable. The PSNI are sighted on all operational activity. The NCA has no national security function, but is concerned with serious crime, for example child exploitation and drug smuggling, including crime carried out by paramilitary groups. In this regard it has a good working relationship with MI5.1 am satisfied these statutory provisions are adhered to.

Progress on “the past” is still at an early stage while expectations for the proper and balanced understanding of the history in relation to the legacy inquests remain high. Funding is a continuing issue.

The Assistant Chief Constable responsible for policing the marching season reported an overall sense of reduced tension compared to the previous year and the 12 July parades passed off without serious incident. I was encouraged by the dismantling in early October of the Twaddell Avenue protest camp, which had been established and ongoing since 2013.

I was impressed by the standards and commitment of senior members of MI5 and the PSNI who provided unstinting time and access. My thanks are also due to the NIO for its support.

I have measured performance in 2016 against the five key principles identified in relation to national security in Annex E to the St Andrews Agreement of October 2006. My conclusions in relation to Annex E can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/Commons/2017-07-17/HCWS54/.”

[HCWS54]