Stormont's security in spotlight
It is blindingly obvious that a lapse in security allowed a little-known republican group to erect an Irish tricolour and another republican flag on the roof of Parliament Buildings at Stormont earlier this month. It is equally evident that luckily this was just a self-serving political stunt and not a terrorist-inspired attack on the building.
From inquiries made by this newspaper it is not unreasonable to suggest that security on that day was not all it should have been. It seems that contractors and staff are not subject to the intensity of security screening that would be expected at such a sensitive site.
Once contractors have been given security clearance to work in the building, workmen bringing in equipment or tools and coming and going frequently can escape the most rigorous searches, according to those in the know.
On the day in question there were up to 44 contractor staff with access to the roof. Given that someone managed to smuggle two flags onto the roof it is not unreasonable to suppose that not everyone was scrutinised intensely each time they entered the building, or even that only contractor staff had made their way there.
The seriousness of the incident is that whoever was responsible for taking the flags onto the roof could have brought something more sinister such as a gun, an explosive device or a knife into the building. Remember how loyalist killer Michael Stone tried to storm the building in November 2006 only to be grappled to the ground by security staff? That was a blundering attempt, but it shows the sort of warped mindset that must always be guarded against.
Whatever our opinion of our politicians, Stormont is still the seat of Government and the meeting place of our political elite. It is a potential target for extremists and it is imperative that security is imposed at an appropriate level. Imagine the propaganda coup and the damage to the image of Northern Ireland if, for example, dissident republicans were to breach security at Stormont, even in a minor way.
Quite rightly the flag-raising incident is being treated seriously, just as breaches of security at Westminster in recent years have led to the security services being brought in to advise on the precautions necessary to safeguard the House of Commons. The current investigation must ensure that any gaps in security at Stormont are plugged immediately.