MI5 operations in Northern Ireland hampered by probe into republican agents

MI5 operations in Northern Ireland hampered by probe into republican agents

 

Northern Ireland terror ­networks are on the rise – but MI5 has been ­hampered by a probe into how it infiltrates the militant republican underworld.

A report from the Intelligence and Security Committee said a recent inquiry into how much power MI5 gives “insiders” to commit crimes could have held back operations.

The New IRA – which said it shot dead journalist Lyra McKee, 29, in a Derry riot last year – is the main threat but other groups are joining forces and signing up youngsters.

For 50 years MI5 and military intelligence units have recruited “agents” from Northern Ireland’s republican community to spy on groups like the IRA from within. If discovered, such agents have been murdered after being tortured for days.

Frequently insiders have to commit crimes – usually minor – to maintain their cover but there were conspiracy fears MI5 gave them too much leeway. Highly placed Whitehall sources recently told the Mirror MI5 would never sanction torture or murder.

Last night, two MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee, Kevan Jones and Stewart Mosie, said an Investigatory Powers Tribunal probe had “hung over MI5’s agent running operations”. They said: “This case challenged MI5’s ability to authorise agent participation in criminality, which is sometimes necessary to maintain their cover or to secure access to intelligence which may save lives or disrupt more serious criminality.

“The Tribunal ruled in December 2019 that MI5 does have this implied power. If the ruling had gone the other way it would have had serious consequences, increasing the threat to the UK.”

They added: “Dissident Republican groups appear to be continuing to recruit new members including significant numbers of young people.”

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