Thursday, January 25, 2007

Too subtle

The relatively brief exchange between Mark Durkan and Tony Blair at PM's Questions yesterday --

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The report from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland shows that a serial killer was protected by special branch and paid by the state for years. That would be a national scandal anywhere else. Does the Prime Minister accept that that collusion was a fact, not a myth? Is it not a disgrace that three former heads of special branch—Chris Albiston, Ray White and Freddie Hall—failed to co-operate with the police ombudsman’s investigation, although two of them have attacked her report and her office? Can Ronnie Flanagan, who presided over a culture of “anything goes, but nobody knows” be credible as chief inspector of constabulary? Will the Prime Minister rethink plans to install MI5 as continuity special branch in Northern Ireland, as that would put it beyond the reach of key powers of the police ombudsman?

The Prime Minister: First of all, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman about what has taken place, I completely disagree with his analysis of what MI5 is doing in Northern Ireland. It is simply not correct to say that it will have any role at all in civic policing. Secondly, we deeply and bitterly regret any collusion that has taken place, as we said at the time, and any impropriety on the part of anyone working for special branch throughout those years. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to acknowledge that as a result of the changes made some years ago, that cannot happen any more, and it is precisely as a result of the additional scrutiny that we now have that this matter has been uncovered and laid bare. It is important that we make sure that such things can never happen again. We must deal with those responsible, and that is obviously what we are doing
. [permanent link]

had more action in Durkan's question than Blair's answer. Durkan could never have named those special branch officers outside parliament, and Blair either missed or chose not to respond to his dig at MI5 ("continuity special branch"), making at least a rhetorical equivalence between MI5 and the renegade Continuity IRA.