PSNI chief: revamp Stormont security in wake of tricolour stunt
The Chief Constable has ordered an immediate review of the security threat to Stormont following the flying of an Irish tricolour over Parliament Buildings.
A senior officer has asked Assembly staff to carry out an updated threat assessment in the wake of the stunt earlier this month.
The Irish flag and a second republican emblem were hoisted by a group claiming it had taken advantage of lax security.
Today this newspaper can reveal further details about the events which led to the incident.
It has emerged how:
- Up to 44 contractor staff had access to the roof on the day the flags were flown;
- Some workmen may have been skipping security checks on arrival;
- Staff were allowed restricted access within the Assembly even if they were still awaiting security clearance.
The incident has prompted demands for an urgent review of security from politicians and also police. A letter sent on behalf of Chief Constable George Hamilton, and seen by this newspaper, confirms that "a full police investigation is under way".
"It would be the recommendation of police that a full review of internal security be undertaken under the auspices of the Assembly Commission," it says. The letter adds: "Chief Superintendent [Nigel] Grimshaw has requested an immediate updated threat assessment in relation to Parliament Buildings and will consider the findings upon receipt."
DUP MLA Paula Bradley said the flag incident highlights broader issues which must be addressed. "While there was an obvious breach of security with the erection of flags, the wider issue of importance is how such articles could be brought into the building, and whether there have been any other breaches of security which have not yet been discovered," she said.
Police are continuing to investigate the June 3 incident. The tricolour and a green flag emblazoned with the words Irish Republic appeared on flagpoles over Parliament Buildings for a short time.
It is believed to be the first time the Republic's national flag has flown from Stormont.
The 1916 Societies group, a shadowy organisation opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, later claimed responsibility. In a statement, the militant republican group said members had taken "advantage of lax security" and accessed the roof of the building to raise the flags.
The roof and fourth floor were undergoing construction work at the time and were under the control of building contractors.
The Assembly said all contractors are required to use the airport-style search facilities and security scanners.
However, sources have claimed these rules were not being enforced as strictly as they should have been in recent times.
One source said: "They weren't subject to much security. They were coming in via what's known as the slope at the back of the building and were not always going through the metal detectors."
It has also emerged that 44 staff were involved in roof work on the day of the incident. The details were disclosed after a written question from DUP MLA Lord Morrow. The commission said no contractors were found to have had unauthorised access to Parliament Buildings that day.
It has also been disclosed that staff are given restricted access to Parliament Buildings even if they haven't had security clearance. In response to a second question, the commission said: "All contractors entering Parliament Buildings are first required to produce written evidence that they have undergone appropriate security clearance, and on receipt of this, a contractor may be granted unrestricted access.
"Where such clearance is pending, or occasionally to facilitate critical work, restricted access under escort may be granted by the Usher Services office."
It is understood the PSNI investigation into the incident involves seven detectives.
A PSNI spokesman said yesterday: "Inquiries are ongoing."
The stunt follows a high-profile security breach at Parliament Buildings nine years ago.
Loyalist killer Michael Stone launched a murder bid on Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams during the infamous attack in November 2006 in which he raided the building armed with explosives and other weapons.