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27 July 2006 Edition

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British boost MI5 role in North

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly

The British government's decision to maintain MI5 at the core of policing in the Six Counties circumvents commitments to democratic accountability in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said that it was unacceptable that an organisation that had set itself against policing reform and political change throughout the course of the peace process should be given an expanded role.

"The influence of Special Branch and MI5 needs to be wound down not supported and expanded. Democratic accountability and an end to political policing is a fundamental requirement of the Good Friday Agreement," said Kelly.

Similar concerns have also been expressed by Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan and the Oversight Commissioner Al Hutchinson. In her annual report delivered last week, O'Loan raised concerns about the issue of accountability in relation to the British government's decision to hand over responsibility for 'security' in the Six Counties to MI5 - an organisation outside statutory control.

The Ombudsman's office can access all relevant information when investigating complaints against the police but MI5 does not have to co-operate with it. In her report O'Loan said it was vitally important that her office had ability to access intelligence material. O'Loan called for legislative accountability that would compel British intelligence agencies to disclose information.

In his most recent report, policing watchdog, Al Hutchinson said the British government's decision to ensure the primacy of MI5 had "profound potential implications for the policing service" and warned against any move that compromised "robust and rigorous" accountability of the police. As Oversight Commissioner, Hutchinson has been tasked with overseeing the successful implementation of the Patten Report's 175 recommendation for a new beginning to policing.

Meanwhile the British government has spent over £20 million building a new MI5 headquarters at the notorious Palace Barracks in Holywood. The four-storey building, intended to house around 400 people, has its own underground bunker.Palace Barracks has a long association with British intelligence-led covert killings, as has MI5 itself, a key and integral part of British counter-insurgency during decades of conflict.

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