Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Forces are a threat - McGuinness

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Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness speaks Sir Hugh Orde's request

Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness has said army special forces are a "major threat".

It comes after Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde requested support from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment to help gather intelligence on dissident republicans.

"The history of the north has shown that many of these forces have been as much a danger to the community as any other group," said Mr McGuinness.

Sir Hugh said he will discuss the move with the Policing Board next week.

Mr McGuinness said the decision was "stupid and dangerous".

He said it had "shaken his confidence" in the chief constable, and that he had raised the matter with the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Earlier, there was a dispute among members of the board after the SDLP and Sinn Fein complained that the board was not told of the deployment by the chief constable.

But the DUP said the deployment of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment was a national security issue and not a matter for the board.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said the regiment had no "operational role".

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde speaking about his request for additional support

Special forces, such as the SAS, operated throughout the Troubles, but left after the 1997 IRA ceasefire.

The Special Reconnaissance Regiment, which specialises in surveillance and intelligence gathering, has also been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The SDLP said the decision send the regiment to Northern Ireland "raises the issue of who is in control".

"At lunchtime on Thursday, the PSNI were telling the Policing Board the British Army would not be deployed save for bomb squad support," said a statement.

"But by teatime we learn that British Army recon units are deployed.

"There is an immediate issue of who made this decision, when it was made and what the PSNI did not know or knew and did not tell the Policing Board."

DUP board member Ian Paisley Jr, however, said the dissident republican threat was a "national security issue, not a matter for the policing board".

"We're there to hold the police to account on operational reasons. This is a national security issue delivering to police more intelligence, more support, more help in the national security battle to ensure terrorism is defeated.

"This poses absolutely no threat to any community in Northern Ireland."

Special Reconnaissance Regiment
The regiment was formed in 2005.
Recruits are drawn from all three services with some posts open to women.
It is based in Hereford, where the SAS also has its headquarters.
It supports other special forces units and conventional forces in a variety of operations.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said he had asked for some extra support to deal with the threats posed by a small number of what he described as "extremely dangerous people".

"We are talking of a very small number of people who increase my technical capacity," said Sir Hugh.

"They have no operational role, they support my policing operations which are undertaken by my police officers.

"So, in terms of democratic mechanisms, accountability, we have stuck absolutely rigidly to all of those which were put in place of course by the St Andrews Agreement."

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