“We won’t be able to do that with MI5.”

The Observer’s Henry McDonald interviews out-going Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan in today’s paper and her comments on the prospects for her successors are worth noting.. as others consider what to do next.

“There will be a reduction in this office’s ability to call people to account. The current situation gives me powers that enable me to examine intelligence information and records,” says O’Loan. “Soon I won’t have that amount of access to information. The security services may co-operate with me and we are working towards a protocol that says they won’t withhold information. But there is a huge difference between that and me having statutory powers to, for example, trawl through police computers and dig and dig until I find something. We won’t be able to do that with MI5.”

“If you have got constables and sergeants handling people who are reporting to the security services then I can ask the constables and sergeants to account for themselves. However I can’t question the security services’ managers about any alleged wrongdoing.”

Also worth noting are the comments on protecting informants

“The whole procedure of Special Branch was predicated on the protection of the informant. So people had a vested interest in sustaining their own informants. There wasn’t a process by which informants were screened or their activities were looked at.” Loyalists, however, were not the only ones protected and, indeed, used by their police handlers during the conflict, she says. O’Loan says she is confident that senior republicans who were in the pay of the state were also protected.

At present she is investigating 10 complaints, all related, directly or indirectly, to the role of ‘Stakeknife’, one of the British government’s most important agents inside the IRA. Freddie Scappaticci was the head of the IRA’s internal security squad, the unit that hunted down and killed informers. All the while Scappaticci was working for the security forces. O’Loan says it is safe to assume that there are others like Stakeknife who have been protected by the state.

And on what evidence she has, or has not, found so far.

So was it British policy to direct agents inside both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups to kill with impunity? O’Loan says that so far, at least, she has found no evidence of directed, structured, centrally controlled collusion. There are, though, she adds, many examples of police handlers being aware of what their agents were up to, including serious crimes such as murder.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Hi Pete !

    Some mistake surely in that report ?
    Henry and Nuala must be wrong – Gerry Kelly says so :
    “What we have achieved in this is that MI5 will have no part in policing in the north.
    The whole issue of MI5, and these security services are also in the south of Ireland, is that if they act illegally then we have a PSNI which is not signed up to MI5 and which will hold them to account.”

    I wonder what Henry and Nuala think of corporation tax…..


  • Pete Baker

    Indeed, Sharon.

    Clearly someone has got it wrong..

  • The Dubliner

    O’Loan’s point was that existing RUC/PNSI informer records will no longer be accessible to her successor after MI5 assumes responsibility for informers/agents from the PNSI, making any inquiry in past events that her successor may make (which must be evidence-based) all the more difficult/impossible since the Ombudsman has no power over the Intelligence Services, and thus, no power to compel MI5 to produce the relevant records for his examination. If so, and control of records goes to MI5 along with control of informers, then that amounts to more ‘locking-down of the past.’

    That works to Kelly’s advantage: less likelihood of evidence of PIRA’s infiltration by touts and informers being exposed to scrutiny and less likelihood of any future state-sponsored crimes involving informers causing embarrassment for PSF’s support of the PNSI (since such crimes won’t involve the PNSI at the control level – and will be virtually impossible to prove due to the inability of the ombudsman to inquire into any allegations about them).

  • Pete Baker


    “O’Loan’s point was that existing RUC/PNSI informer records will no longer be accessible to her successor after MI5 assumes responsibility for informers/agents from the PNSI, making any inquiry in past events that her successor may make (which must be evidence-based) all the more difficult/impossible since the Ombudsman has no power over the Intelligence Services, and thus, no power to compel MI5 to produce the relevant records for his examination.”

    Is that what she’s saying though?

    I got the impression she was talking about what happens next – and her office’s focus has always been on what the police did.. or didn’t do.

    Meanwhile – apart from selected episodes currently under investigation – the past is, supposedly, to be dealt with in an entirely different way.

    As for what happens next..

    MI5 will be handling certain informants.

    But, as the Chief Constable and others have said

    PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde, meanwhile, said the Ombudsman’s report was uncomfortable reading, but handing informants was an essential part of policing, and would continue to save lives and bring criminals to justice.

  • redhaze

    Oh dear this doesn’t look good.

  • The Dubliner

    “Is that what she’s saying though?” – Pete Baker

    I don’t know, but it seems a fair interpretation of what she said. It all depends on what happens to the records (of cases that exist prior to handover) when control of informers passes from the PSNI to MI5, doesn’t it? If they go to MI5 along with the informers, then the Ombudsman won’t have statutory access to them (and no access at all, bar whatever “protocol” is worked out between them). MI5 certainly need access to those records in order to manage the informers and the operations they were/are involved in, so do the historical records remain with the PSNI (where the Ombudsman can freely access them) with copies going to MI5 (are copies even classed as legal documents?) or are they to be moved to MI5’s new headquarters (where the Ombudsman has no or restricted access to them)? It could be that she is simply referring to new cases, but it could also be the above ‘practicality.’ If she means what I think she means, then the transfer of control from the PNSI to MI5 means a lot more than I initially assumed it meant (i.e. more than the PNSI merely doing the donkey work for MI5, but removal of important historical records away from public scrutiny). Perhaps someone should ask what will happen to the records at handover?

  • The Dubliner

    “MI5 will be handling certain informants.”

    Just a quick extra point: every civic police force works with informants, particularly in tackling organised crime – but it may be a grey area when you have subversive elements (threats to the state) who are involved in organised crime, in a personally capacity or otherwise. At any rate, the records about non-paramilitary informers are not of any interest or relevance in establishing the truth about paramilitary crimes (and the level of state involvement in them).

  • Nevin

    Has the PO’s office been anything more than a white elephant, a very expensive white elephant?

    I’ve just had a look at complaints in Moyle DCU:


    Most of the stations listed aren’t even in Moyle DCU!!

    Maybe the dumb PO beasts should be put out of their misery …..

  • Hi all !

    My reading of this situation is that , despite what some have claimed , MI5 WILL have “a part in policing in the North” and that group WILL NOT ‘be accountable’ to the PSNI for the part they play .
    Mr Kelly’s comments were uttered at the time as part of the ‘spin’ needed to assist in selling yet another change in direction to the party faithful . But how ‘faithful'(?) those people must be to actually believe that MI5 would be accountable to the PSNI….


  • Nevin

    Sharon, is ‘spin’ a strong enough term? Deliberate untruth? Lie?

  • Nevin

    There seems to be a problem with my link to ‘Number of Complaints and Allegations’ in Moyle DCU so you may need to click on that icon when the webpage opens.

  • interesting …. but anyone read the last 3 paras of the interview – the import of this is pretty significant don’t you think – dread to think “security forces ….letting their agents inside Islamist groups commit crimes… to gain promotion through terror organisations’ ranks”:

    “As she enters the twilight of her career as Northern Ireland’s first ever Police Ombudsman, O’Loan stresses there are lessons to be learned for policing practices, including counter-terrorism in Britain. It is only hours after news came through about an abandoned car bomb in the West End of London and fears of a renewed Islamist offensive in England. Yet even in a state of high alert, O’Loan warns about the dangers of the forces of law and order crossing the line.

    The security forces in Britain, especially the police, should avoid the temptation of letting their agents inside Islamist groups commit crimes to enable them to gain promotion through terror organisations’ ranks, she says.

    ‘My concern is that if we have to learn anything from Northern Ireland, it is that we mustn’t allow a situation to develop in places like Bradford, Manchester or London, where you allow communities to become so disconnected from the police and the security services – because they can see people being allowed to commit crime, and very often serious crime – that they stop giving the authorities the information they need,’ O’Loan says.”

  • Hi Nevin !

    ‘Spin’ as in the T.U.A.S. document , perhaps …


  • Nevin

    Sharon, I’ve just spoken to the POO about the ten stations of Moyle DCU. I only know of three!!

    I asked to speak to someone about the POO website and was put through to a young person in the IT department. It seems the website has been handed over to a ‘third party’. MI5???? Anyway, the youngster recognised some stations were from south Armagh but didn’t know where Moyle was – despite the helpful graphic.

    Far be it from me to say that the POO is a Totally Useless A.S.S 😉

  • Hi Nevin !

    Indeed , what a quandary –
    Whether the P.O.O. wants you to P.S.F. (‘Please Stoop Further’) or is indeed a ‘T.U.A.S.S.’ as you suggested or – the thick plottens – is merely employing a ‘Tactical Use’ of it’s A.S.S. we will probably never know .
    I blame Pete for starting this …..


  • The Dubliner

    Sharon, I take your point, but MI5 are only concerned with threats against the state (i.e. republicans, not loyalists), so did anyone take Kelly’s comments as being other than spin at the time when the PSNI would still manage loyalist informers and would only – to follow Kelly’s logic – hold MI5 “to account” for shenanigans involving their control of republican agents/touts/informers “if they act illegally” but wouldn’t hold itself to account for shenanigans involving its retained control of loyalist agents/touts/informers.

    Effectively, you have public scrutiny of PSNI loyalist covert operations via the Ombudsman, but no such public scrutiny of MI5 republican covert operations. Could Kelly really have believed that the PSNI (which has no power to hold MI5 to account) was a better mechanism of public scrutiny than the Ombudsman? I recall that there was a great deal of public scepticism about his comments at the time.

    As a member of Republican Sinn Fein, your party is a prime target for MI5, so I can understand why you are bringing this back up. If you feel that PSF have giving the covert state greater control over your party, you are correct. From Kelly’s point of view, that’s another result. Kelly’s other point isn’t far wrong: British intelligence services operate within the Irish Republic, including improper influence over politicians, the media – and in the case of MI6 – infiltration of the Irish police service at the very high levels (Patrick Crinnion, private secretary to the head of the Irish Special Branch, Chief Superintendent John P Fleming, was arrested passing top secret state documents to an MI6 agent at a Dublin hotel).

  • Hi Dubliner !

    I think that Gerry Kelly and the rest of the PSF leadership knew exactly the calibre of those in their ranks that the ‘MI5-will-be-governed-by-the-police-board’-type of remark was directed at: a ‘militant-nationalist’-type (or at least , for the most part ,slightly more ‘militant’ than Fianna Fail members) whose mantra is “the leadership know what they are doing…” . For example , see the contributions from a PSF supporter who signs-in as ‘Doire’ on this link….
    ….and note , specifically , his/her comments regarding Martin McGuinness and Henry Kissinger .
    It is , I believe , that type of political numbskull that Mr Kelly’s remarks were aimed at.
    However , I don’t think that Gerry Kelly believed what he himself had said in relation to MI5/PSNI – it was purely for consumption by the ‘Doire’s’ in the ranks .
    And I think you are right , ‘Dubliner’ , in stating “from Kelly’s point of view, that’s another result.” I see it that way , too .


  • joeCanuck

    I think that it really doesn’t mean much.
    Even with the theoretical ability to dig into MI5s activities, there were never going to be any “smoking guns”.
    MI5 is too sophisticated to leave paper trails and they probably aren’t adverse to lying.