THE Ministry of Defence (MoD) is set to challenge a ruling ordering it to release information about its current role in the north.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) asked MoD officials to provide the terms of reference for Operation Helvetic – the name given to the British Army’s continuing operation in the north – last year.
It came after military chiefs originally refused to hand over the majority of the information requested by the Committee on the Administration of Justice, claiming it is exempt under two sections of the Freedom of Information act.
MoD officials claimed some of the information could be withheld under Section 23 of the act – which refers to intelligence agencies and section 24 – which considers “national security”.
Section 23 covers information linked to agencies such as MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters (GHQ).
The Section 23 reference is believed to relate to MI5, which operates from a complex at Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down.
In a recent decision notice the ICO said while some of the information is exempt other information relating to Operation Helvetic should be released.
Helvetic has been in place since July 2007 when Operation Banner officially ended.
The British Army continues to have a limited presence in the north and its bomb squad routinely responds to call-outs to deal with explosives.
Undercover units are also believed to have been deployed since the start of Operation Helvetic, including the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SSR), which is understood to work closely with the SAS.
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.
An MoD spokesman said: “As an appeal is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story.
Follow this link to find out more concerning Operation Helvetic which replaced Operation Banner after 1998: http://www.irishnews.com/paywall/tsb/irishnews/irishnews/irishnews//news/northernirelandnews/2017/07/31/news/ten-years-since-end-of-operation-banner—and-start-of-helvetic-1096778/content.html