'Intelligence-Gathering Must Be Accountable'

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HIDDEN hands must no longer play any role in intelligence-gathering in Northern Ireland, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said yesterday.

He told Sir John Chilcott, who is carrying out a review of intelligence- gathering, that the system must be accountable in the future.

"There can be no more room for spooks operating to their own ulterior agenda, which is outside the realm of accountability and scrutiny,'' he said.

Sir John was appointed to carry out a review of intelligence-gathering following a break-in at Special Branch headquarters last year.

Speaking after meeting Sir John at Stormont House to discuss the future of intelligence-gathering in Northern Ireland, Mr Durkan said: ''We don't want to have a situation where we have the accountable policing arrangements working in a robust way, where we drive through the changes needed to be driven through in relation to Special Branch - changing the force- within-a-force situation.

"Where we are driving through the sort of key structural and personnel changes that needed to be made in policing, only for us to be gazumped by a continuing role in the future for military intelligence and for the security services.

"That would mean that there are people operating here with an ulterior agenda beyond the transparent, accountable policing agenda which should be the only focus for any future intelligence policing here.''

Mr Durkan said it was important the Northern Ireland political parties met to discuss future developments in the area.

"We were at pains to stress to Sir John that he should do nothing in his recommendations that would pre-empt the necessary discussions and decisions that have to take place involving the political parties here to take forward and defend the policing changes that are already there, and also to take forward the further developments as far as devolution of policing and justice are concerned in the future,'' he said. …