National security office urged in Policing Commission report

A new national security body charged with collecting and analysing intelligence from State agencies and coordinating their activities is to be a key recommendation of the forthcoming Policing Commission, the Irish Examiner understands.

National security office urged in Policing Commission report

A new national security body charged with collecting and analysing intelligence from State agencies and coordinating their activities is to be a key recommendation of the forthcoming Policing Commission, the Irish Examiner understands.

The full-time office will be headed by a national security and intelligence coordinator who will report directly to the Taoiseach.

It is understood that the body — which will have its own staff — will collate and integrate national security intelligence from all relevant State agencies: An Garda Síochána, the Irish Defence Forces, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But the office will not have the power — like Britain’s powerful MI5 security service — to conduct its own intelligence gathering activities, with all such operations remaining with the existing agencies.

It is thought institutions, such as the UCD Centre for Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Investigations may also feed into the office.

The body will be tasked with drawing up a national security and intelligence strategy and devising long term, medium term and short term priorities for the agencies.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, set up in May 2017, is expected to publish its much-anticipated report early next week. The expert group has been tasked by the Government to draw up a blueprint for policing and oversight.

It is unclear, on the information available, what authority the office and the security coordinator will have in relation to the separate agencies and their heads.

It is expected the commission’s report will recommend that legislation be introduced to clearly define the powers of the office. This could clarify if the office has to rely on the cooperation of agencies or will have a legal entitlement to intelligence.

The Irish Examiner also understands the commission will recommend a strengthening of governance and oversight in relation to intelligence gathering, including covert surveillance, phone interception and accessing of data, to ensure they comply with international human rights law.

The security model being proposed would suggest that the Garda commissioner will remain in complete charge of Garda security and intelligence.

This issue has been raised with the appointment of Drew Harris as commissioner given his previous high-ranking role in security and intelligence in the PSNI and his past relationship with MI5.

While the expected model is set to herald a significant shakeup of current security and intelligence structures, it does not mark the establishment of a powerful new security service, along the lines of MI5, which would gather its own intelligence.

However, the report is understood to say that the new office could possibly be a step in the creation of such a security service over time.

The proposed model does not reflect the worst fears of An Garda Síochána — that their power over security matters would be removed completely from it and into a separate agency.

But the recommendation will be met with trepidation within Garda HQ, which had hoped that the commission would merely recommend a mainly internal realignment, with the possible establishment of a security committee of some type and maybe changed reporting requirements.

Senior Garda sources said the prospect of having to share intelligence with some sort of State security body would be “anathema” to the long-standing culture of secrecy within the Security & Intelligence Section of An Garda Síochána.

The commission conducted desk research on other countries and visited some states, including Britain, and met senior officials. They also met with relevant agencies here.

When contacted, the Policing Commission said the report would be published later this month and would not be commenting in the meantime.

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