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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I listened with interest to what the Minister told us and I think that it may go. I shall obviously study the matter at further length and no doubt we shall return to it on Report. Perhaps I may point out that my Amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 29 sought to achieve, first, what I think the noble and learned Lord has understood. They also sought to add that, insofar as policing is not a devolved matter, the Secretary of State should, as a matter of form, be sent a copy of any report. The Bill suggests that the report would be sent to the Chief Constable and to the board but, in so far as ultimate responsibility lies with the Secretary of State, a copy of the report should also be sent to him.

Moreover, where an investigation under the clause is completed by the ombudsman, the ombudsman should report on it to the Secretary of State if requested to do so. That may go without saying, but it is certainly not enshrined within the current drafting and is something that might usefully be added to the Bill.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Fitt: This debate has once again illustrated that policing in Northern Ireland is a highly sensitive issue. Even after so many years of debates and inquiries, many people in Northern Ireland feel that the Bill is totally unnecessary. I am certain that the previous Secretary of State who piloted through the Police

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(Northern Ireland) Act 2000 saw no need for the inclusion of all these additions to it. Although it will be denied, I am also certain—as are many people in Northern Ireland—that the whole Bill is a result of discussions that took place at Weston Park.

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of Omagh, a name came into the public domain that was allegedly a pseudonym for Kevin Fulton. Kevin Fulton was allegedly an Army agent who was giving information to the police. When his name came into the public domain, it was to the effect that he had got in touch with the police and given them information that the bomb was to be exploded in Omagh that cost so many lives. After many hours of arguments and inquiries, it subsequently transpired that that was totally untrue and that the information that he gave could not and did not identify the town of Omagh as to be bombed that day. However, his intervention and his statement led to the ombudsman calling an inquiry into the activities of the police: what they did or did not do in relation to the Omagh bomb.

I do not have to illustrate to the Committee how emotive was that time in Northern Ireland, how the whole community stood back in revulsion at the terrible happenings of that day. I attended many of the funerals and met many of the relatives of the victims, and I know the emotion that there was about that.

The conclusions of the ombudsman's report into that, which, as I said, was triggered by the so-called information given by this agent, Kevin Fulton, led to a great deal of controversy in Northern Ireland. It appeared that the ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, was coming down firmly in a position that placed her in total opposition to the police. That is how the police saw it—and how I saw it, because I knew many of the policemen engaged in that inquiry, especially Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson, who was broken-hearted about what he had to do in the investigation into that complaint.

That is terribly dangerous. It seems to put the office of the ombudsman firmly in the nationalist as opposed to the unionist camp. Again, we have all the seeds of a bitter division. That division has not gone away.

I once spoke here to the ombudsman and told her of my great reservations about and hostility to the report that she then issued. She told me then, and it was confirmed by those who were in her company, that the report stated quite clearly at the outset that the police could not be blamed for allowing that bomb to be exploded in the town of Omagh. That is quite true, it was printed at the beginning of her report, but that is not how the people in Northern Ireland saw it. Even yet, depending on what district one goes to or what religious group one gets involved with, there are people who will say that the police stood back and let that bombing take place.

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No later than this Monday, I was in Northern Ireland. One of our widely read newspapers, the Irish News, printed a front-page report. I was terribly distressed when I read it. It appears that the NIO agreed a pay deal to the so-called informant, Kevin Fulton. He has now left Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Office have agreed to buy him a home in England and to pay him a considerable sum of money, all to stop him from identifying the name of another IRA mole whom he allegedly knew in Northern Ireland. That report—which I do not contradict, but will speak to the Lord Privy Seal about after the Committee, because it is very annoying—states:

    "An NIO source last night admitted that attempts had initially been made to use the Police Ombudsman's Office as a conduit to offer the compensation deal to Fulton, but that was abandoned after Nuala O'Loan's office refused to get involved.

    But it is understood that one of Fulton's police handlers travelled to England late last year and advised the former agent he would receive 'compensation' if he dropped threats to reveal the identity of the IRA mole known as 'Steak-knife'."

This man, Kevin Fulton, is on record at this especially emotive time of having gone to a British Sunday newspaper and signed a deal for 50,000 that he would identify this mole. The newspaper agreed to that, and then decided to make further enquiries. When those were made of the police, they immediately withdrew the mole.

That involves the use of taxpayers' money from everyone in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. The NIO was prepared to give that man considerable compensation to set him up in a lifestyle here, outside Northern Ireland, on the ground that he does not divulge the name of the IRA mole. What is to prevent him from divulging that name to a Sunday newspaper in future, if he is so unreliable? He gave an interview to an English newspaper and the reporter said that his impression of him was that he was,

    "a notorious double dealer behind a string of dubious hoaxes".

If the Northern Ireland Office is to use British taxpayers' money to pay a scoundrel such as that to leave Northern Ireland and to set him up in a lifestyle to which he is rapidly becoming accustomed, I again pose the question: is there any guarantee that he will not at some time in future—irrespective of the compensation which he has been paid—run short of money and go to a Sunday newspaper to divulge the name of the IRA mole? Personally, I should be quite happy about that as I have no time for moles, and I do not care who the mole is. Some people say that people are so frightened of divulging the name of the mole because he may be in the upper echelons of the IRA. We do not know, but it is not right that the ombudsman's office should be used, or was used—I do not believe that it will ever be used again—to call into question the credibility, sincerity or compassion of the police of Northern Ireland in their investigation into that terrible tragedy.

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Incidentally, I notice that the NIO has tried to use the ombudsman to act as a link with the alleged informant who is now living here in the United Kingdom. She has refused to do so. Nuala O'Loan may have learned her lesson from previous events. However, I believe that it is right for the Government either to agree with this or to let the people of Northern Ireland know how much money has been paid and what it has been paid for and whether they have any guarantees that this so-called informant will not divulge the name of the so-called IRA man in the IRA.

This report, which is in Monday morning's Irish News, is very disquieting. I have a copy of it here. The printing of such a report at this time could resurrect all the doubts and concerns that people have about some members of the ombudsman's office and, indeed, about the police in Northern Ireland.

Lord Glentoran: I want to say two things on this amendment. First, cautiously, I welcome it. I am certainly nervous about the ombudsman being able to investigate what is termed here "practice or policy". It is getting very close to investigating operational methods. There is a balance here but, on this occasion—the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will probably not believe his ears—I wish to give the benefit of the doubt to the ombudsman. I am grateful that this government amendment has been tabled today because it certainly makes me far more comfortable with the Bill as it stands.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am not seeking to conclude the discussion, which obviously I cannot do. In response to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I simply want to say that I have not seen the cutting and am in no position to make any comment at all. However, my silence should not be taken as acquiescence. I am in no position to have any knowledge about it.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I differ slightly from my noble friend Lord Glentoran because I am concerned that one provision under which the ombudsman may decide to investigate a matter is when she has reason to think that there is significant public concern. It seems to me only too likely—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am trying only to be helpful, not discourteous. My later amendment takes away that offensive phrase and substitutes it with "the public interest".

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