Security veto is open to abuse

Policing Authority constrained

The initial response to the Government decision to put “national security” beyond the reach of the soon-to-be-announced Police Authority must be one of disappointment and justified suspicion.

There can hardly be a phrase as flexible or as open to abuse as “national security” and it does not require the imagination of an Ian Rankin or a Henning Mankell to describe how the idea might be used inappropriately to stonewall legitimate inquiries or hide away unacceptable behaviour. Neither does it suggest that our destructive culture of secrecy bordering on denial is about to change any time soon.

This difficulty has already been recognised by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission who argued the authority should oversee “national security policy and practice” and that oversight in this sensitive area was a “requirement” under the European Convention of Human Rights.

For citizens to have faith in the offices of the State those offices must be credible and, like it or not, accountable. Unfortunately this decision seems a throwback to the bad old days when accountability was more celebrated in the breach than in observance. The very least that is required is a quick and powerful mediation service to rule in every case this veto is used. It would be utterly unacceptable if an organisation under investigation could decree an issue is one of national security and therefore off limits.

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