The Conway Mill on Belfast’s Fall Road was the setting for a very well-attended public meeting on Thursday [November 8] at which éirígí launched its latest ‘Know Your Rights’ leaflet.
As concern grows in communities across the Six Counties about the increasing activities of Britain’s MI5, the party has produced a four-page information and advice leaflet setting out the steps people should take if they find themselves approached by the secretive spying organisation.
The meeting, chaired by Belfast éirígí activist Máire Drumm, began with a fifteen minute video presentation detailing some of MI5’s methods of operation.
She then introduced the first of two speakers at the meeting, éirígí’s rúnaí ginearálta, Breandán Mac Cionnaith.
Mac Cionnaith explained that the party had seen an upsurge in people coming forward to report approaches made to them by MI5, approaches which often occurring with the co-operation of the Six County police force.
In the course of his remarks, Mac Cionnaith said that, for several years, constitutional nationalist parties in the Six Counties had peddled the lie that they achieved the following:
- No role for MI5 in ‘civic policing’
- No PSNI personnel under MI5 control
- No secondment of PSNI personnel to MI5
- Annual oversight and reporting mechanisms on MI5’s role
- A clear firewall established between the PSNI and MI5
Mac Cionnaith then dissected each of those claims.
He pointed out that MI5 does not have powers of arrest; does not have powers to question people; does not have powers to search or seize property and is fully dependent upon the PSNI to carry out those operations, arrests, searches and interrogations.
Constitutional nationalists, he said, put great emphasis on a statement made by the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, in 2007. Blair stated that only PSNI personnel attached to PSNI Headquarters Staff would act in a “in a liaison capacity” with MI5. Constitutional nationalists seized upon that statement to fool their members and supporters into believing that only a handful of PSNI personnel would be working with MI5. Those politicians, he said, failed to admit that many sections and departments of the PSNI fall under that overarching description of “Headquarters Staff” and that, at any one time, up to 1,200 of the PSNI personnel attached to Headquarters staff could be acting in a so-called ‘liaison capacity’ directly with MI5.
Mac Cionnaith also said that so-called annual oversight and reporting mechanisms on MI5’s role have been shown to be completely meaningless and worthless. He observed that the appointment of a British peer, Lord Carlile, a supporter both of non-jury courts and the prolonged detention without trial for suspects, to a role in annually reviewing MI5 in the North, was bizarrely hailed as “progress” by constitutional nationalists at Stormont. He also noted that that Carlile’s annual review of MI5 in the Six Counties is supposed to take place in consultation with the First and deputy First Ministers at Stormont – thereby directly implicating the north’s largest constitutional nationalist party into providing a fig-leaf for MI5’s activities in the Six Counties.
Mac Cionnaith also pointed out that Britain’s former Six County minister, Owen Paterson, had stated in December last year that there were “no difficulties of any significance in the inter-operability between the PSNI and the Security Service... This is a sound working partnership.”
Constitutional nationalist parties, said Mac Cionnaith, had created a smokescreen of propaganda to mislead their community into believing that those parties had achieved major progress on ending the era of political policing which has existed for as long as the Six County state itself. He bluntly described that as “a deceit”.
Referring to the recent controversy regarding the re-hiring of ex-RUC personnel as ‘agency staff’ by the PSNI, Mac Cionnaith stated, “It is also noticeable that no mention is ever made of exactly how many ex-RUC personnel are employed by MI5.
“Given that over 1,000 ex-RUC men were rehired back into the PSNI by the back-door, it is quite conceivable that at least a similar number have entered MI5’s base in Holywood through the front door.”
Máire Drumm then introduced the second speaker, Pádraigín Drinan, the well-known Belfast-based solicitor who, for forty five years, has been to the forefront in campaigns to defend against the erosion of human rights and civil liberties in the Six Counties.
From her participation in the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s, Drinan was involved in representing many of those interned without trial by the British state during the 1970s, and over the course of many years has represented families who lost relatives at the hands of British state death squads. She has also represented many people who have been subjected to harassment and abuse by state forces and recently mounted a legal challenge against stop and search tactics used by the PSNI.
Ms Drinan said that, as a solicitor, she welcomed éirígí’s initiative in publishing the ‘know your rights’ leaflets. She described the latest publication on MI5 as “a necessity for many people” and added “that after all these years of repressive legislation it was remarkable how few people are actually aware of what their rights”.
Ms Drinan said, “The decision to make this information available is a very welcome and timely step.”
Ms Drinan continued, “Anyone approached by MI5 personnel, should contact a solicitor and let the solicitor act on their behalf. The goal of MI5 is to gather intelligence on a person’s neighbours, friends and even on members of that person’s family. They will try their hardest to extract any information, no matter how innocuous that may appear, from those whom they approach with each meeting.
“Anything they may offer, in terms of monetary incentives/jobs, is solely for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the person approached – and it is worth remembering that.
“No-one approached by MI5 should give away any personal details about themselves or anyone else, however harmless that information might seem.
“No-one is under any obligation to speak with MI5 no matter where or how they are approached. You can ignore them and you can walk away from them.”
She stressed the importance for everyone to report all approaches made by MI5 in order to protect their rights and civil liberties.
Several hundred copies of the new leaflet were readily snapped up by those attending the public meeting.
The leaflet may be downloaded here.