Report may herald significant shakeup of security structures

Andrew Parker, director of MI5.

People looking for a dramatic development in the shadowy area of security and intelligence may be already lining up to dismiss the expected proposals from the Policing Commission.

Calls from certain quarters to set up a separate agency to conduct all such operations, along the lines of MI5 in the UK, appeared not to have convinced the Government-appointed expert body.

However, those calls had never really been analysed in detail in public, including the enormous complexity, and costs, involved.

Not that the commission has ruled it out as such, as it is thought to indicate in its forthcoming report that this new office could, over time, be the first step towards such a security agency.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is due to publish its report, laying out a model for policing and oversight, early next week.

With the strong caution that the full details of its proposals are not known, the Irish Examiner understands the report recommends:

  • A new security body, positioned above the State’s key security service (An Garda Síochána) and all other agencies and departments with such functions (Irish Defence Forces, Revenue Commissioners, and Department of Foreign Affairs)
  • The office will report directly to the Taoiseach, in effect becoming the Government’s advisory office on national security
  • It will be headed by a national security co-ordinator
  • The office will have its own staff and budget, though details on the size, composition, seniority and skill-set of the staff are not yet clear
  • The body will gather and integrate the intelligence from the agencies and co-ordinate their activities
  • It will draw up a national security and intelligence strategy for the country and devise priorities (from short-term to long-term) for the respective agencies

There is a lot that is unclear at the moment and there will be issues — both big and small — that will have to be ironed out.

It is understood some of the commission’s recommendations in this area, and others, are not prescriptive as regards detail.

As is well known with the establishment of oversight bodies such as Gsoc and, more recently, the Policing Authority, legal clarity on the roles, and powers, of the new office will be crucial.

A key issue will be the authority of the office and its co-ordinator in relation to the operational agencies and their heads.

The proposed model does not reflect the worst fears of An Garda Síochána — but it will still send shockwaves through its Security and Intelligence section.

The proposal may herald, particularly over time, a significant shakeup of Ireland’s security and intelligence infrastructure.

Of course, it will be still up to the Government to accept, reject, modify, mothball, neutralise, or simply just ignore, any of the commission’s recommendations.

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