The MI5 problem is real

The role of MI5 under the catchall of “national security” could be a time bomb. After all the twists and turns of years of the peace process it risks handing an initiative to the dissidents. The Kieran Doherty affair keeps rumbling on. The pattern of events is all too familiar. Man with murky associations is murdered, local politicians pin as much of the blame on the authorities as on the group who shot him. The nightmare scenario is that the local community is stirred up against the authorities more than the killers and away we go, to hell and perdition.

It is understood Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson accompanied the Real IRA man to his solicitor’s office in Derry last December after he received a Christmas card from MI5’s “Justin” wishing him and his family seasons greetings and a comment about “getting together” in 2010. A source said: “Kieran was worried by the moves being made by MI5 to get him to talk to them.

If true, this is no way for MI5 to behave. Of course it may not be true; it may be dissident republican smoke. Whichever it is, delivering solemn little lectures about the source of criminal responsibility to SF’s Martina Anderson is a waste of time. Eamonn McCann poses the problem mildly. He and Ed Curran noted Mark Durkan’s concerns were dismissed at the last NI questions at Westminster. Yet it’s clear that Sinn Fein are not forcing a crisis over the Doherty killing and are content to leave it as a second order issue. When it comes to secret protocols certainly unwritten and perhaps even unspoken, it’s hard to believe that MI5 operations have not got Sinn Fein’s implied consent. It behoves MI5 to tread carefully and for Sinn Fein in a crisis to live up to their share of new responsibilities for law, order and justice. For undercover work, the accountability gap will never be filled, but the Chief Constable and the new Minister of Justice must be given enough information to make a credible reply over affairs like the Doherty murder. Trust is fragile and stonewalling will only make matters worse.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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