Former Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan was speaking to the News Letter after this paper reported that the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) - set up to address outrage over the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan in 2015 - investigates the UVF, UDA and INLA - but ironically not the IRA.
The PSNI revealed the information in a Freedom of Information request. It explained to the News Letter that the PCTF only fights terror groups which do not post a risk to national security.
The PSNI explained that the groups that do pose a threat to national security, PIRA and dissident republicans, are dealt with by the Security Service or MI5, working in conjunction with the PSNI Terrorism Investigations Unit (TIU).
But the DUP lead on the Policing Board Trevor Clarke, told the News Letter last week that his party and a senior official on the board had never heard of the TIU and never had any briefings from it.
Now former ACC Alan McQuillan has explained how the apparent blind spot in the Policing Board oversight of NI policing came to be.
He said that as part of negotiations for coming onto the policing board SF demanded that the Policing Board would not have oversight of Security Service activity in order to placate its supporters - that it would not be contaminated by spying on PIRA or dissidents.
There was a desire not to put themselves in that position and the government did not want to put them in that position where they would have to supervise the gathering of intelligence against the IRA.
“These arrangements have their roots back in the early noughties,” he told the News Letter. “As we moved from the old system where the police led all intelligence, there were two driving forces. The first was that the national [policing] system had changed. The counter intelligence lead on terrorism had shifted to the Security Service working with specialist national anti-terrorism command in the police. There was a drive to replicate that within Northern Ireland to make the NI system consistent with the rest of the UK.
“And the second issue was that there was a concern that it would be extremely difficult for Sinn Fein joining the Policing Board to step into a situation where they were overseeing the gathering of intelligence against people within the wider republican movement.
“And therefore there was a confluence of interest in coming up with this new model which has proved extremely effective - lets be clear - in terms of the impact it has had on dissidents it has really worked. But there was a feeling that, my understanding was, that as part of the negotiations, that these changes were being made as part of the package that led to Sinn Fein joining the Policing Board.”
Some unionists complain that there is a constant stream of publicity from the PSNI about successful operations against loyalist criminality, but none about actions against PIRA criminality - with the PSNI having reported that IRA members are still engaged in large scale smuggling, as well as other criminality.
Mr McQuillan says that this is “a matter for the chief constable” and adds that it is one thing to gather intelligence but another to get convictions.
But he says it is quite clear that while MI5 is not accountable to the Policing Board, the PSNI’s TIU is, and should appear if asked to.
“Quite clearly the terrorism group (TIU) that is operating within the PSNI is accountable to the Policing Board and therefore it is open to the Policing Board if they choose to ask for them, to make themselves of what is going on there. And if they haven’t it is because the board hasn’t asked for this.”
He added that MI5 has done “a blindingly good job against dissidents here, bringing people before the courts”.
“The question is what is happening on the other side in terms of the organised crime? It is about making that visible and making sure that is being done as well as it is being done on the Paramilitary Crime Task Force side.
He has previously gone on record to say that his work when heading up the Assets Recovery Agency appeared to be somewhat frustrated.
“We were always being criticised that so much of our work was against the loyalists. I think that was fair criticism and I raised it repeatedly but we found it very difficult to get republican cases referred to us. We did get some but I think there was a real issue at that stage and people were desperately trying, I think, to make sure that the peace process was bedded down and I think that we have to look back and say overall and over time, that strategy has worked.
“But at the same time we are left with a residue on both sides.”
A Policing Board spokeswoman said: “The oversight arrangements in respect of National Security matters, and the oversight role of the Board, were set out in Annex E of the St Andrew’s Agreement.”
Sinn Fein was also invited to comment.
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