Monitoring group told to “safeguard national security”

Posted By: September 21, 2017

Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, September 21, 2017

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire wrote to the Independent Reporting Commission to warn it to put national security first in the course of its work monitoring the activities of paramilitary groups
James Brokenshire has warned a new peace process watchdog to safeguard national security information.

The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) was established by the British and Irish governments to monitor activity by paramilitaries.

It was agreed following Stormont talks involving the five main parties amid concern about continued activity by organized groups.

Mr Brokenshire, right, said: “In order to fulfil its objective, and in light of the functions and the range of bodies the commission will consult in the course of its work, it is likely that the commission will receive information, which could, if disclosed, be prejudicial to the national security interests of the UK.

“This guidance, therefore, draws together the principles and arrangements for managing national security sensitive information so as to ensure that the commission can carry out its responsibilities effectively and that the national security interests are also properly protected.”

Disclosure of some sensitive information could risk the life or safety of a person, Mr. Brokenshire added, and the commission had a duty to ensure its proper protection.

He wrote to the body earlier in the summer but there is no suggestion his intervention was anything other than routine.

It was agreed in 2015 between the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland parties after a number of high-profile Republican killings, but the time required to pass enabling laws in both countries meant it was only recently given a formal mandate.

The final piece of legislation was signed into law in July.

Attacks by dissident republicans targeting members of the security forces remain “highly likely”, the authorities said, while unionists have expressed unease about the continued existence of the Provisional IRA.

Two years ago Chief Constable George Hamilton said PIRA’s ruling army council still exists but was not engaged in terrorism.

It followed the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan, Sr. in Belfast that year.

Subsequent political talks to repair power-sharing at Stormont focused on tackling paramilitarism.

The outcome was a new international body, created by the British and Irish governments under the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

The four IRC members will be former US special envoy to Northern Ireland Mitchell Reiss, ex-human rights commissioner and political leader Monica McWilliams, solicitor John McBurney and former Irish diplomat Tim O’Connor.

The commissioners have met several times to carry out preparatory work in advance of the commission being formally established.

Irish legislation enabling the formation of the commission was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins late in July.

Corresponding UK legislation was passed more than a year earlier.