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MI5's openness will help engender trust

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 08/08/2016

MI5 director general Andrew Parker is keen to get the trust of the public
MI5 director general Andrew Parker is keen to get the trust of the public

This week the Belfast Telegraph is publishing a major series on the work of MI5 in Northern Ireland.

In an important development, the national security service has granted this newspaper exclusive and unprecedented access to its base at Palace Barracks in Holywood, and it is doing so to improve its image.

In effect, it is reaching out and trying to build trust in areas where it has not existed previously.

Andrew Parker, the director of MI5, recognises the history of Northern Ireland and its security situation, which means that his agency has less trust from the general public than in other areas of the UK.

He believes that MI5 personnel will be able to do their jobs better if they have the support of the whole community.

He says: "Whilst there are sometimes limits to what we can say about how we stop attacks in order that we can keep doing it, I want people in Northern Ireland to see that we are a modern, inclusive organisation operating to the highest ethical standards within a clear legal framework, and subject to proper independent scrutiny."

So far, so good. These are admirable sentiments, and hopefully they will go some way to reassuring those who still have doubts about the accountability of MI5.

However, the operatives in MI5, to remain effective, must work in the shadows, and to infiltrate a terrorist organisation and deal with its threats, there must always be a significant degree of secrecy and subterfuge involved.

The considerable challenge facing MI5 is not to allow this degree of secrecy to become a barrier to the genuine acceptance and trust among both main sections of the community in Northern Ireland.

The level of the dissident threat is severe, as was seen in the discovery of a major arms haul in Lurgan over the weekend.

The deadly haul included home-made explosives, improvised mortars, pipe bombs and three firearms.

It is frightening to think of the damage that these could have caused to human life. It is equally scary to speculate on how many other arms dumps there might be out there.

Even though our society has moved far from the darkest days of the Troubles, the latest find demonstrates that the work of the security services remains as vital as ever, and they deserve our support as they carry out this crucial work in difficult circumstances to help save lives.

Belfast Telegraph

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