A one-time head of PSNI intelligence has warned against dismissing republican concerns about the so-called policing ‘dark side'.
And with senior police and republican delegations due to meet early in the New Year, Peter Sheridan stressed the importance of that dialogue.
He told this newspaper he believes the security service MI5 is “absolutely still needed” in Northern Ireland at this time.
But he added: “How do we get to the common goal that there isn't a dissident threat and therefore no need for that type of security/intelligence gathering?”
The retired assistant chief constable, now chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, was responding to the article penned by Sinn Fein's national chairperson and published in this newspaper on Wednesday.
In it, Declan Kearney warned that republican support for policing is not unconditional — and in blunt terms told the chief constable to “start living in the real world”.
Kearney — outlining republican leadership thinking — described a “residual dark side” that is “contaminating the new beginning to policing”.
This is a reference to intelligence practices and to what Sinn Fein refers to as the “securocrats”.
Matt Baggott has yet to respond — declining opportunities to write in this newspaper and to take part in yesterday's Nolan Show debate on Radio Ulster.
“The danger is people miss the pulse of this,” Sheridan said, meaning that the Kearney article is clearly reflecting a wider mood in the republican community. “I don't think these things are just said for the sake of saying them.
“It's clearly a concern within the republican movement. All of us, Sinn Fein included, support policing. The challenge would be to engage and find a common understanding. You can't ignore this. It's a question of trust on the vital role of intelligence and Sinn Fein's concerns about that.”
Two years ago, after he had left the PSNI, Sheridan privately drafted a five-point plan to counter the dissident threat, emphasising the need for this to go beyond the police and Sinn Fein.
“There's very little the Protestant/unionist community can do about dissidents,” he told this newspaper.
His strategy suggested:
- A more collaborative/collective effort by the nationalist/republican leadership, going beyond condemnation;
- A joint north/south task force to set the lifestyles of dissidents under a microscope;
- A change in language, removing dissident and calling them anti-peace/anti-Irish;
- A diplomacy/dialogue approach;
- A strategic effort to engage young people in areas where they would be vulnerable to recruitment by dissidents.
Sheridan was the highest-ranking Catholic officer in the PSNI when he left the police service three years ago, and is now involved in peace-building projects.
Recently he hosted a meeting between a visiting Basque delegation and media, loyalist, republican and church figures here.
And on the developing police/Sinn Fein row, he said the challenge: “Is trying to identify the next part of the journey and to find a common and shared understanding.”
Story so far
Earlier this week, Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein’s national chairperson, penned an article for the Belfast Telegraph during which he warned that his party’s support for the PSNI “was not unconditional”. In the article, Kearney warned over the “dark side” of policing — a clear reference to the continued use of Special Branch/MI5 intelligence practices.