After Strokestown: Northern Paramilitaries And The Private Security Industry

Paisley and McGuinness helped open industry door to ex-paramilitaries; Drew Harris helped draw up the rules

The Private Security Industry, with its ability to provide employment to their unskilled members and lucrative income to its owners, has long been a target of Northern-based Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups.

The three men who helped open the private security business to former paramilitaries: Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and Drew Harris

So it is no surprise that in the wake of the eviction riot near Strokestown, Co Roscommon at the weekend, there were allegations, so far unconfirmed, that former paramilitaries, allegedly of a Loyalist persuasion, were involved in the fracas.

For many years the police in both jurisdictions on the island had and (in the case of anti-GFA republican groups) still have special squads with a remit to keep a close eye on paramilitary involvement in the private security industry.

But the magnitude of the problem was not officially acknowledged until the 2000’s when the paramilitary ceasefires were monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), whose conclusions were simple: there had been a significant level of infiltration of the industry by paramilitary groups.

This is what a Northern Ireland Office consultation paper on ‘Regulating the Private Security Industry in Northern Ireland’ had to say in August 2006:

The industry is particularly vulnerable to penetration by paramilitaries because of low barriers of entry to those wishing to provide a private security service. There have been examples in Northern Ireland of private security services being subverted to act as a cover for criminality, for example, the provision of security guards to provide cover for running a ‘protection racket’.

……The Fifth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that there was direct evidence of paramilitary involvement in the private security industry in Northern Ireland, resulting in many firms suffering from extortion. They stated that the current, temporary control regime in Northern Ireland was “less stringent” than the regime in England, Wales and Scotland, and was insufficient in preventing paramilitary infiltration into the industry.

……In their recent report into organised crime, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) has identified the potential for exploitation of the industry by paramilitaries and organised criminals. It recommended that the area of regulation of the private security industry in Northern Ireland be dealt with as a matter of priority. It also identified the need for appropriate training and registration of door supervisors, and noted the problems with the form of self- regulation that is encouraged by some, but not all, councils throughout Northern Ireland.

The only bar to the issuing of a licence to operate a private security firm was evidence that a paramilitary group stood to gain directly, or indirectly – a difficult proposition to prove, especially if there was a court challenge.

To solve this problem of under-regulation, direct rule ministers decided to put Northern Ireland under the control of the same Home Office-based organisation which regulated the industry in England, Scotland and Wales.

It was called the Security Industry Authority (SIA). In Nov 6, 2007, according to correspondence published by the NI Assembly, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris was appointed by the PSNI Chief Constable to be the force’s representative in discussions with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the SIA to draw up the rules governing private security firms in the North.

Drew Harris was in charge of crime at the time, in which capacity he liaised with MI5. He is currently the Garda Commissioner.

The SIA published the following guide to the employment of former paramilitaries by the private security industry, It opened the door to the legal employment of former paramilitaries by invoking guidance issued by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in early May 2007, a few days before they officially took office as the inaugural First and Deputy First Minister in the post ceasefire Stormont government.

Here is the full text of the SIA document; the relevant paragraph is the final one:

Conflict-Related Convictions

This information applies to conflict-related convictions that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998). It should be read in conjunction with our supplementary guidance document.

Supplementary Guidance on Conflict Related Convictions (download size: 85kb)

When you apply for an SIA licence there are three possible outcomes:

  • Grant – the criteria for licensing have been met
  • Refuse – the criteria for licensing have NOT been met
  • Consider additional factors – depending on other factors, the criteria may or may not have been met. This is not an immediate refusal: we invite you to supply to us (within a specific time period) additional information before reaching our final decision.

If you have conflict-related convictions these convictions will be assessed under ‘consider additional factors’ in line with guidance for employers from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

When we consider additional factors the following points are taken into account in relation to conflict convictions:

  • The criteria we apply in deciding whether to grant a licence are approved by the Secretary of State (section 7(5) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • We have a statutory duty to apply those criteria in our decision making (section 8(3) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • When considering a criminal record, we take into account the relevance, seriousness, recency and the disposal of each offence.
  • We consider all offences on a person’s criminal record, regardless of whether in other circumstances they might be considered ‘spent’.
  • The fact that an offence was conflict related and pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement will be taken into account when considering the whole of a person’s criminal record.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the judgement of Kerr J- this link opens in a new window in Damien McComb application for Judicial Review [2003] NIQB 47. Kerr J ruled that the fact a person has been released under the Good Friday Agreement (in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998) and has been determined as no longer a danger to society was a relevant consideration as to whether or not a licence can be granted for working as a taxi driver.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the guidance- this link opens in a new window to employers issued by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which states that any conviction for a conflict-related offence that pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998) should not be taken into account unless it is materially relevant to the employment being sought.

The Paisey-McGuinness guidelines are too lengthy to reproduce in full here, but here is a link to the entire document.

In the meantime, here is the relevant section:

The key principle arising from the work of the group is:
“……that conflict-related convictions of ‘politically motivated’ ex-prisoners, or their membership of any organisation, should not generally be taken into account [in accessing employment, facilities, goods or services] provided that the act to which the conviction relates, or the membership, predates the Agreement. Only if the conviction, or membership, is materially relevant to the employment, facility, goods or service applied for, should this general rule not apply”

For what it is worth here is my read of all this: If you are a paramilitary group that is keeping, by and large, to your ceasefire commitments then HMG will turn a blind eye to the fact that the head of your security company used to be on the Brigade Staff of the IRA, or UDA or RHC.

And as long as you run a clean ship, you’ll be able to employ a rogues’ gallery of ex-IRA/Loyalist cons. In fact there is a big plus for HMG in all this because you’ll be putting money in pockets and keeping potential malcontents busy and reasonably content – even if from time to time someone’s iPhone might film them behaving in embarrassing ways.

Ain’t the peace process just great?!

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