Northern Ireland

Paramilitary activity: Review only the tip of intelligence iceberg

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Theresa Villiers commissioned the review of the structure, role and purpose of republican and loyalist paramilitaries

The assessment of paramilitary activity published by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is just the tip of an intelligence iceberg.

The information released is just a fraction of the material provided to a panel that reviewed the conclusions of the PSNI and the security service MI5.

Ms Villiers outlined the assessment of the "structure, role and purpose" of paramilitary organisations.

But much of the material was deemed too sensitive to be made public.

So members of the public, media and politicians will not see the full detail on which the conclusions are based.

Raw intelligence

In the days and weeks ahead, politicians may seek some further clarification, but they will not be given sight of any material regarded as sensitive.

The three panel members, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, former civil servant Rosalie Flanagan and barrister Stephen Shaw QC, undoubtedly had access to a vast array of information to enable them to assess the accuracy of the conclusions.

However, it is unlikely that even they had access to all of the information available to the PSNI and MI5, like the raw intelligence material.

The government has described this as an "independent" review, but as Ms Villiers told the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, the assessment was "jointly drafted by the PSNI and MI5".

The panel reviewed it and signed it off as "fair and balanced", "evidence based", and "credible".

Deemed necessary

But while they were able to ask questions and challenge assumptions and conclusions, they were working within the parameters of information provided by the police and security service.

Ultimately, they were not in a position to provide their own independent assessment.

They saw much more of that intelligence iceberg than most, but only as much as the police and MI5 deemed necessary for them to do their job.

More on this story