SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has been criticised from across the political spectrum for calling for MI5 to be stripped of its intelligence gathering role in Northern Ireland.
The South Down MP’s comments on the battle against dissident republican terror groups were rapped by senior DUP, Sinn Fein and UUP politicians.
She said: “It is now very clear that MI5 is not up to the task of leading intelligence-gathering in the north.
“The SDLP believes we need an aggressive, high-profile, all-Ireland intelligence-gathering operation based on the bond of trust which has grown between police and public.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea said: “As chair of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee I can say that the Chief Constable has not had cause to complain about the information being made available by MI5.
“The suggestion that there are intelligence difficulties is more about Margaret Ritchie’s personal, political agenda than about a genuine knowledge of the challenges being faced by the PSNI.”
Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said: “When Margaret Ritchie calls for intelligence gathering to be located within the PSNI what she actually means is a return to the past.
“The practical outworking of what she is calling for is the embedding of MI5 into the PSNI. She is in effect calling for the malign influence of MI5 to be allowed to contaminate the new policing structures of the PSNI.”
DUP MLA and Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt said: “MI5 and the other intelligence services play a key and vital role in the defence of the United Kingdom from terrorism. The dissident Republican terrorist campaign is designed to overthrow a democratic government and the established will of the people of Northern Ireland.
“No weapon in the armoury of the state should be off limits when it comes to combating the threat posed by murderous Republican criminals.”