Intelligence oversight chief ‘must be independent’

Ireland’s new intelligence oversight chief must have “full access” to classified material and be “wholly independent” of Government, the former British oversight boss has said.

Intelligence oversight chief ‘must be independent’

Ireland’s new intelligence oversight chief must have “full access” to classified material and be “wholly independent” of Government, the former British oversight boss has said.

David Anderson QC, who served as the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation from 2011 to 2017, said the reviewer can have influence if they “harness” the support of parliament, parliamentary committees, the courts and the media.

He was addressing the Policing, Human Rights & Communities conference in NUI Galway, which was attended by a range of high-ranking justice figures, including Charlie Flanagan, the justice minister, and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, as well as academics and community workers.

The creation of an independent examiner of terrorist and serious crime legislation was recommended by the Policing Commission as part of a number of measures relating to national security.

Mr Flanagan told the conference, organised by the NUIG School of Law and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, that his department was preparing draft legislation to provide for the examiner position. He said this was in addition to measures, already underway, to set up the National Security Analysis Centre, and the director of the unit.

Mr Anderson said the new examiner must be “wholly independent of Government and have full access to classified material”. He also said the person should be active in the media and on social media.

He said his job entailed the examination of police detention of terror suspects — an area not currently covered in Ireland.

Mr Anderson said the examiner should also be able to conduct “snapshot” reports of their own choosing, saying he had done ones on deportations, intelligence handling, and citizenship deprivation.

Even if governments don’t want to implement recommendations, he said, the reviewer has “influence” if they “harness” parliament or parliamentary committees or get their message into the courts or into the media.

He said issues that Ireland would need to address in setting up the post were:

  • The scope of the examiner, suggesting it should be expanded beyond specific counter-terrorism laws to laws that relate to terrorism, such as immigration legislation
  • Access to information, saying Britain had an informal approach, where, in Australia, it was a criminal offence to deny information
  • Publication of reports — which he said was “who has the final say over what might need to be redacted” and suggested Ireland copy the Australian model where reports lodged must be published within 15 days and the necessary redaction completed by then

Maura Conway, professor of international security at DCU, said the new National Security Analysis Centre should take a “harms-based approach” to its job, taking into account not just “hard” security threats, such as terrorism, but also “softer” ones, such as State-directed information campaigns directed at elections.

She said NSAC should not just be a “co-ordination” centre, as has been indicated by Leo Varadkar, but one that takes a “360 degree view” of threats, vulnerabilities and risks, involving intelligence analysts.

Prof Conway said she hoped the centre would be “more open” to external organisations and experts.

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