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History is made as MI5 looks for staff to work in Ulster HQ

By Chris Thornton

The intelligence agency, MI5, began openly recruiting in Northern Ireland today - preparing to staff its new Belfast office for the greater anti-terrorist role it is due to assume here before the end of the year.



A groundbreaking ad for IT professionals and foreign language transcribers to work in the Greater Belfast area was placed in the Irish News and News Letter today.

The ad - the first of its kind in Northern Ireland - will also appear in the Belfast Telegraph tomorrow.

The Security Service, as the intelligence agency is also known, is recruiting in advance of the handover of national security powers to it from the PSNI.

However, the Policing Board has been told that no specific date has been fixed for the switch because of continuing negotiations about intelligence sharing between MI5 and the PSNI.

The handover, which will put MI5 in charge of intelligence relating to national security, is due to happen before the end of the year.

Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan told the Board that a memorandum of understanding between the two organisations is not completed and "until that happens" the handover will not take place.

He said the PSNI will use "as many or as few" officers on liaison with MI5 as is required, although he indicated the greater number may be involved at the outset.

MI5 has built special Northern Ireland headquarters inside Palace Barracks on the outskirts of Hollywood to prepare for their expanded role. The building, the cost of which is an official secret but is estimated at £20m, has been described as the second most important centre for MI5, after their London HQ at Thames House.

There has been speculation that the building could be used as a fallback headquarters in case of a major terrorist attack or disaster in London.

Today's job advertisement indicates that the workers based there will concentrate on more than Northern Ireland terrorism.

The ad says MI5 is keen to recruit transcribers who speak a variety of Middle Eastern, African and Asian languages - including Arabic, Urdu, and Punjabi - as well as Russian.

Their salary is to be confirmed. The IT professionals will be paid between £22,745 and £32,016 a year.

During last week's meeting of the Policing Board, SDLP member Dolores Kelly raised her party's concerns that former RUC Special Branch officers would be employed as consultants by the Security Service.

Mr Sheridan said the PSNI has "no function or role" in MI5 recruiting.

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