British military demand secrecy for Irish operations

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The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has sought to block a ruling ordering it to release information about its ongoing operations in the Six Counties.

British Army chiefs originally refused to hand over information requested by the Committee on the Administration of Justice under the Freedom of Information act, claiming it is exempt.

The CAJ last year asked for the terms of reference for ‘Operation Helvetic’, the codename for the British Army’s continuing occupation in the north.

British military officials claimed some of the information should be legally withheld as “state intelligence” and “national security”.

In a recent decision, Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office said while some of the information on Operation Helvetic is exempt, other information relating to it should be released.

British Army units are increasingly active in the North, carrying out searches, dealing with bomb alerts, and flying reconnaissance missions by helicopter and spotter plane. Ongoing recruitment efforts include controversial promotional activities at secondary schools, including some in nationalist areas.

Less is known about the activities of the British Army’s undercover units, such as the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SSR), and the infamous SAS, responsible for political assassinations and military ambushes in the past.

It is thought eight thousand British soldiers are currently stationed on Irish soil, with many more MoD employees working in support roles.

Deputy director of the CAJ Daniel Holder said “the public have a right to know whether the scope of the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland complies with the terms of the peace agreement, Patten Commission and human rights standards.

“In the absence of transparency about the remit of the armed forces here, it’s not possible to tell if they are operating under PSNI direction or if there is instead some undeclared link to MI5 or the use of covert units, such as the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, that bypass the oversight arrangements,” he said.

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