By Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
Saturday, 3 March 2012

One of Northern Ireland’s top police officers has strongly defended the use of retired RUC officers in the fight against “cancerous terrorist groups”.

Up to 300 former officers, many of them from Special Branch, were recruited by the Grafton agency to assist the PSNI with sensitive cases.

The Audit Office has been asked to investigate the practice, which has been criticised by Sinn Fein, because the officers all shared in the £500m Patten redundancy scheme. Many left on enhanced pensions with six-figure sums.

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, the PSNI’s head of crime operations, said that they had been the best solution to spike dissident republican terrorist activity, which started in 2006 and continued “at a severe level until early 2009”.

The help of the senior officers had, he believed, helped achieve a reduction in violence and is continuing to bring pressure to bear on terrorist and criminal gangs.

“We needed a skill set, which they provided, we needed it quick and we needed it against an amount of money, which stops on a certain date,” he said.

“When the threat increased in 2006/07, the Government gave us funds to invest in additional resources.

“The money came in two one-year tranches and a further tranche to cover four years.”

This, he argued, prevented the PSNI using it to recruit and train new officers.

“We can’t invest in police officers with 35-year careers when we only have a funding stream for one year or four years. At the end of

the four years, we would have had 200-odd officers, but cash to pay them would be gone,” said the senior PSNI figure.

“Secondly, these people had specialist skills. This involved corporate knowledge of terrorist tactics, intelligence gathering, financial investigation and major crime investigation that is essential.” He sees the dissidents as strongly motivated but isolated, and “almost afraid to try and voice their argument because they realise it has no traction, it has no support”.

He added: “Because of the additional investment that we had and close co-operation with An Garda Siochana, a lot of them have been charged or convicted. This has a put a lot of pressure on them because they are not an infinite amount of people.”

Detectives no longer analyse the dissidents as distinct organisations, the PSNI says.

“They group by locality and are made up of individuals who are related to each other, who have known each other all their lives or have been in prison together,” said the Assistant Chief Constable.

“We end up with a complicated wire diagram rather than putting into three or four silos marked RIRA, CIRA etc.

“We monitor contact between groups to determine whether they are sharing expertise and equipment.

“The more fractious they are, the better for us, and they are pretty fractious at the moment. I don’t see them unifying.”

Harris on…

Catholic officers being forced out

“The number leaving is minute. In an organisation of 10,000 which has undergone such a recruitment programme there is bound to be churn, but we can see no discernible impact. We have officers living in every community across Northern Ireland and some from the Republic of Ireland.”

Dialogue with the dissidents

“They don’t want to talk to anybody. They are convinced that this violent course of action is entirely legitimate and proper, but I sometimes think they are afraid to voice their argument because they realise it has no traction; it has no support. They aren’t ready for dialogue at this point.”

Keeping on top of the bombers

“There were fewer attacks in 2011 than 2010. If you look at 2010, some of those attacks were vehicle-borne, complicated operations. You have to acquire many items. You have to do a dry run, deliver the device and escape. It is entirely different from leaving a blast bomb outside a premises.”

The importance of financial probes

“Serious criminality always involves money, which can be traced. It’s a bit of the Al Capone factor. Treat the conspiracy as a business, close down its cash flow, put pressure on the organisation and wait for a rash act which puts the players in contact with illicit property. Then you move.”