In one respect, these residual powers illustrate Northern Ireland’s isolation as a region. They are the price being paid for the slimmed-down and highly regulated force that constitutes the PSNI.
Barring some new arrangement with the Garda Siochana, which would be difficult between two sovereign states, the PSNI cannot call on the help of neighbouring police forces in an emergency. It is natural, therefore, that the garrison is there for backup in the event that bombs need to be disposed of or to contend with a sudden security crisis.
One of the lessons of the recent conflict is that once a state finds it needs a power, it doesn’t surrender it lightly. Another is that the price of transparency and accountability is the availability of another option that is not quite so transparent or accountable.
And he identifies one of the less-easily transferrable lessons
In a sense, these hidden arms of the state are the trade-off for the transparency and accountability that was negotiated by the Good Friday agreement and recommended by Chris Patten. That deal was accepted, if not enthusiastically agreed and endorsed, by Sinn Féin in its dealings with the British government and the Democratic Unionist party at St Andrews.
Over the years of Operation Banner, the interests of the British and Irish states and Sinn Féin have gradually converged. Captain Fred Holroyd, one of the first British intelligence whistleblowers to emerge in the Troubles, once recalled being told by an older officer at the Joint Services School of Intelligence in Kent, “to defeat the enemy you must first become the enemy”.
It was, Holroyd was told, a lesson of Aden and other colonial trouble-spots that you must not only learn how your opponent thinks but also control his structures, shape his thinking and determine as much as possible who rises in his ranks and who dies.
By the time all the papers are released and the definitive history of Northern Ireland can be written, we will all be long dead. British intelligence and its army still guards the secret identities of agents codenamed Chalk and Granite who infiltrated the Irish Volunteers in 1916.
There are enough hints to suggest that sections of the apparently warring factions had a good deal more in common than they admit. We know of the MI6 line of contact to the republican leadership that existed since the early 1970s; we know about high-level agents such as Freddie Scappaticci and Denis Donaldson. We know too that lower-level ones, like Willie Carlin in Derry, pushed Sinn Féin’s strategy towards elections and away from violence. We also know of the many British army officers and intelligence figures, like the senior MI6 analyst Michael Oatley, who came to empathise with the peace strategy of the republican leadership and to support their efforts.
Given that we know this much, we may guess that even greater levels of co-operation and collusion lie beneath the surface.
Some of those points we have seen made before by Liam Clarke et al
Still, food for thought for those on the March for Half-Truth…