Policing Board ‘not aware’ of existence of PSNI unit monitoring IRA activity

The DUP’s lead member on the Policing Board is concerned that he has not been getting any briefings from the specialist PSNI unit tasked with monitoring the ongoing activities of the Provisional IRA - and that the board management don’t even seem to be aware of such a unit.

By Philip Bradfield
Saturday, 22nd January 2022, 4:00 am
Updated Saturday, 22nd January 2022, 12:35 pm
The PCTF was set up after the murder of Kevin McGuigan by the IRA in 2015 - but does not monitor the IRA.
The PCTF was set up after the murder of Kevin McGuigan by the IRA in 2015 - but does not monitor the IRA.

Trevor Clarke MLA told the News Letter that he was not even aware of the existence of the PSNI’s Terrorism Investigations Unit (TIU) until this paper brought it to his attention yesterday.

Mr Clarke was speaking after the PSNI revealed why the the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) it is a member of investigates the UVF, UDA and INLA - but not the Provisional IRA, which the Chief Constable affirms is still very active.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne confirmed to the News Letter in April that the PSNI still stands over a 2015 assessment for the Northern Ireland Office on paramilitary groups, which found that the IRA while “committed to the peace process” still has members trying to identify informants and storing its remaining weaponry. They are also engaged in “criminal activity such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders”. The News Letter has named 26 people apparently murdered by IRA members since the Good Friday Agreement.

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Under the Freedom of Information Act, the PSNI recently revealed that from 2020-21 it issued 46 statements on PCTF operations against the UDA and UVF. However, asked about the number issued about the IRA, it responded: “None. The Paramilitary Crime Task Force do not Investigate PIRA or the IRA.”

Asked to explain why, the PSNI said it makes a clear distinction in how it treats groups which are a threat to national security and those that aren’t.

“The PCTF’s remit has been defined to focus operational activity against paramilitary groups which are assessed not to present a threat to national security,” a PSNI spokesman said. “The identification and assessment of groups that do present a threat to national security, is made jointly by the PSNI and the Security Service. These groups are investigated by the PSNI Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU) who work closely with the Security Service.”

However Mr Clarke said he had never heard of the TIU during his work with the Policing Board, which he found concerning.

“Who are they? Who are they responsible to? What is their reporting time? And when did they last report to the Policing Board? Those are the questions I am now asking,” he told the News Letter.

“First of all, I had never heard of this unit until the News Letter contacted me about it. I am on the Policing Board only a short period of time, however I spoke to someone on the senior management team who should know, and they said that they hadn’t heard of them in five years.

“A colleague of mine has asked why the IRA is not included in the briefings on the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce and was told that they come under a different piece of legislation.

“The thing that strikes me most is that we could never grasp why they [PIRA] weren’t included in briefings under the Paramilitary Crime Task Force. We were given an explanation at the time about the different level of threat these organisations pose to Northern Ireland.

“I think we all know that the IRA never went away in its entirety and its structures never went away. But now hearing that there is as a Policing Board member that there was a PSNI unit that we weren’t aware of concerns me.”

He added: “And if they are responsible to report to the Policing Board, the next question is - why have they not been reporting to the Policing Board?

“I find this frustrating because this organisation [PIRA] has been responsible for the greatest number of deaths in Northern Ireland and is being treated on a different level. All levels of crime are abhorrent but it is strange that the organisation that is responsible for the most deaths in NI seems to be treated in a different way and it seems we are not getting the full disclosure of what work is being done on this, to keep the public and Policing Board members informed what the status of this organisation is.”

The PSNI says the Policing Board receives regular updates on ongoing operations and that the work of the Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU) was highlighted in the November 2021 Chief Constable’s Accountability Report to the board; In addition, police regularly issue press statements about the TIU. The Policing Board also noted mention of the TIU in the same reports and in its latest Human Rights Report.

Neither suggested that the TIU gives briefings to Policing Board members.

The News Letter searched for press statements regarding the work of TIU but could only find those which detailed work against dissident republicans, and none about the IRA.

Since 10 January The News Letter has repeatedly asked the PSNI how many operations, arrests and prosecutions the TIU has carried out against the IRA. No details have been provided.

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