30/11/2009

MI5 Must Share North's Intelligence: Ford

As the Irish and UK prime ministers meet in London this afternoon in a bid to break continued deadlock over the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the man tipped to head the new department in the North has been spelling out some of his terms of reference.

Hours before Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown meet in Downing Street - amid mounting conflict over the issue - the Northern Ireland Justice-Minister-In-Waiting, David Ford has insisted that the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) will be expected to be transparent on its normally secret intelligence gathering.

The Alliance party leader said that MI5 must share all intelligence on republican dissidents with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

He said he would seek to secure the principle that the security services exchange secret information on the armed republican terror groups with the police.

In an interview with the Observer, Ford said his only precondition for becoming Minister was that all four main parties in the coalition agree to a set departmental programme.

He also expressed the view that - even ahead of today's meting in No.10 - the First Minister, Peter Robinson, had already accepted that policing and justice powers should be transferred from Westminster to Stormont, "intellectually at least" as Mr Ford put it.

In a wide-ranging interview, the politician also referred to the Omagh bomb investigation, which revealed that MI5 had not shared intelligence on dissidents with the RUC.

"There is clearly the need, as Omagh showed, to ensure that intelligence is 'joined up'. I would expect the justice minister to be informed in a general sense but on specific security details.

"There has to be sharing of information in principle. I will be the champion of that principle if I become justice minister.

Before such a policy could be agreed though, there's still a major gap between Stormont's two biggest parties.

As widely reported today, Sinn Féin has accused the Democratic Unionists of taking a "train-wreck political strategy" over the issue.

Republicans have called for a local judiciary department to be established as soon as possible.

The DUP has insisted the powers cannot be transferred until there is sufficient confidence within the Unionist community.

Already, the Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness met with the Irish Taoiseach on Saturday, which he said were "useful and constructive".

See: Cowen And Brown Hold Justice Talks

See: MI5 Work In NI 'Still Considerable'

(BMcC/KMcA)

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