Belfast Telegraph

Peace process watchdog must protect national security information - Brokenshire

The Northern Ireland Secretary has warned a new peace process watchdog to safeguard national security information.

The Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) was established by the British and Irish governments to monitor activity by paramilitaries.

It was agreed following Stormont talks involving the five main parties amid concern about continued activity by organised groups.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said: "In order to fulfil its objective, and in light of the functions and the range of bodies the commission will consult in the course of its work, it is likely that the commission will receive information which could, if disclosed, be prejudicial to the national security interests of the UK.

"This guidance therefore draws together the principles and arrangements for managing national security sensitive information so as to ensure that the commission can carry out its responsibilities effectively and that the national security interests are also properly protected."

Disclosure of some sensitive information could risk the life or safety of a person, Mr Brokenshire added, and the commission had a duty to ensure its proper protection.

He wrote to the body earlier in the summer but there is no suggestion his intervention was anything other than routine.

It was agreed in 2015 between the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland parties after a number of high-profile republican killings, but the time required to pass enabling laws in both countries meant it was only recently given a formal mandate.

The final piece of legislation was signed into law in July.

Attacks by dissident republicans targeting members of the security forces remain "highly likely", the authorities said, while unionists have expressed unease about the continued existence of the Provisional IRA almost 20 years after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended violence.

Two years ago PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the Provisional IRA's ruling army council still exists but was not engaged in terrorism.

It followed the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan Snr in Belfast that year.

Subsequent political talks to repair power-sharing at Stormont focused on tackling paramilitarism.

The outcome was a new international body, created by the UK and Irish governments under the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

The four IRC members will be former US special envoy to Northern Ireland Mitchell Reiss, ex-human rights commissioner and political leader Monica McWilliams, solicitor John McBurney and former Irish diplomat Tim O'Connor.

The commissioners have met a number of times to carry out some preparatory work in advance of the commission being formally established.

Irish legislation enabling the formation of the commission was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins late in July.

Corresponding UK legislation was passed more than a year earlier.

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