A. Wise Man replies – but are the security arrangements wise?

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Just received an email from A. Wise Man (Andrew Wiseman), regarding security arrangements at Federal Conference this autumn. Below is his reply – my specific points from my original email are highlighted in blue. Comments thereafter are in red.

Many thanks for yor email forwarded on by Chris Fox.

I appreciate your concern at the arnagements that we have had to put in place. I certainly would prefer not to have the arrangements but FCC has had to balance the safety of those attending conference and take heed of police and Home Office advice. The final decision as to who attends conference does rest with the party and not the police.

In terms of your specific concerns:

  • Details of dual passports (British and Irish) the details of which for the first time ever will be linked. This has particular problems in that many people will have their name in the British one in English and in the Irish one as Gaeilge (in the Irish language), a fact that will be recorded by Greater Manchester Police and held by West Midlands Police and forwarded to ‘any other police forces’. Does this include the FBI?

The only police forces the data is shared with is those that host party political conferences. The system is a stand alone conference accreditation system that is only used for party political conferences. Anyone that wants to have their data deleted after the conference can.

Far be it for me to suggest that we cannot trust the Police in the United Kingdom, but are we honestly to believe that this ‘standalone system’ is not linked in to general police computers? We are being told that the data is to be deleted after the Conference. Not after the check has been made, but after the Conference. That’s quite some time for the details to be held. Anyone else worried by this?

  • Further to this, whilst we understand that FCC will have final say for conference, should a Northern Ireland member with dual passports be flagged up by an English, Scottish or Welsh constabulary this may go on their permanent record and permanently affect their  travel between constituent parts of the United Kingdom (to and from Great Britain from Northern Ireland). Our Membership Development Officer, Stephen Glenn, before he was 21 had visited five Iron Curtain countries on a British passport and on his first trip to the United States of America spent four hours in immigration explaining the reasons for these visits. Following this he acquired an Irish passport, to which as an Irish citizen he was entitled, to expedite easy immigration to the United States of America on subsequent visits.

Please see my answer above, it is a stand alone system just for conferences.

  • Does this therefore mean that Northern Ireland representatives may be adversely affected by a security threat to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom by a dissident republican terrorist grouping?

I don’t think that there is any reason by NI reps should be affected by a security threat over and above ‘main land’ reps.

Then I would suggest that Mr Wiseman has not had the pleasure of growing up and living in Northern Ireland travelling between here and the rest of the United Kingdom at times of heightened security. Especially given the fact that at least one of our reps has a passport as a citizen of Ireland in which his name looks distinctly Irish.

  • A senior police officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has advised one of our local party executive committee that to ask for the details of both Irish and British passports of those who hold both is both racist and discriminatory under the terms of the Belfast Agreement 1998 (an international treaty), to which Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is a signatory.

I am happy to take this point up with the police on your behalf. Do you have the dtails of the senior police officer you refer to so I can get them to speak? If that’s not appropriate I’ll just pass it on as it is.

It was a very senior officer, and some further details will be forwarded privately to Mr Wiseman.

  • Should we recruit new members who may, in the past have convictions or even security records held by police, who are now back in the community following the Belfast Agreement 1998, require accreditation at future conferences, these people will more than likely be flagged as a risk by the police. This would therefore mean that their rights as members of our Party would be denied. This is unacceptable.

The police have made it clear that just having criminal convictions is not necessarily a problem. I understand that the police look at the current risk the individual poses rather than believing they are a risk just because of past convicions. At the end of the day it is the party that decides, we can ‘over rule’ police advice and take responsibility for that individual’s action.

Which party gets to make the decision? The Federal one, or the one that elects members to be representatives at Federal Conference. This seems to be top down, rather than bottom up.

  • Another problem is that were a constable to try to check our local party representatives’ local party details using the Federal Party website, he would be hard-pressed to find references to our local party on it. As I have outlined previously to Chris Fox, the link at the bottom of the Federal Party website marked ‘N. Ireland’ goes to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland’s website. In addition were anyone to check our local party by using our postcode, it will bring up that it is not there. Also by clicking on Northern Ireland on the map on the ‘In your area’ page, nothing is brought up. As I have said to Chris Fox this is not acceptable when we do have a local party operating in Northern Ireland.

While I can’t comment on the Federal Party website if you go onto the conference registration secion you will find that the local party of Northern Ireland is an option for those members who are from that local party.

I am well aware that the conference registration section has a ‘Northern Ireland’ option, but that does not quite answer my question.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any queries,

Regards,

Andrew

I’m still not happy about all of this – and following our discussion in the Duke of York public house with another visiting member of FCC (Linda Jack tonight, Ian Walton on Monday night) in Belfast this evening, I am pretty certain that three of our elected representatives to Federal Conference are unhappy too. However, it is clear that if we want to make sure that no one makes more of a balls-up on Liberal Values at conference, we’d better all at least attempt to go there, rather than let those who think that this is a good thing be the only ones there. In other words, a mass boycott of conference would not be the best option – though we did discuss it.

Northern Ireland asks FCC

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Greater Manchester Police

Are GMP to be trusted with all our details? Image via Wikipedia

In response to the security arrangements announced recently by the Federal Conference Committee of the Liberal Democrats, and following consultation with the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats Executive, I drafted an email which has been sent to FCC on this issue. It is reproduced below for information.

Dear Andrew,

I write on behalf of the Executive of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats and those who are voting representatives to Federal Conference.

The security arrangements which have been put upon the Federal Party members by the Federal Conference Committee apparently at the behest of the local constabulary are completely illiberal and against our Party’s constitution. No outside body has the right to prevent our members from attending our meetings.

The Northern Ireland local party has its own particular concerns about these arrangements as there are a number of problems that we have identified, which I believe will not be exhaustive:

  • Details of dual passports (British and Irish) the details of which for the first time ever will be linked. This has particular problems in that many people will have their name in the British one in English and in the Irish one as Gaeilge (in the Irish language), a fact that will be recorded by Greater Manchester Police and held by West Midlands Police and forwarded to ‘any other police forces’. Does this include the FBI?
  • Further to this, whilst we understand that FCC will have final say for conference, should a Northern Ireland member with dual passports be flagged up by an English, Scottish or Welsh constabulary this may go on their permanent record and permanently affect their  travel between constituent parts of the United Kingdom (to and from Great Britain from Northern Ireland). Our Membership Development Officer, Stephen Glenn, before he was 21 had visited five Iron Curtain countries on a British passport and on his first trip to the United States of America spent four hours in immigration explaining the reasons for these visits. Following this he acquired an Irish passport, to which as an Irish citizen he was entitled, to expedite easy immigration to the United States of America on subsequent visits.
  • Does this therefore mean that Northern Ireland representatives may be adversely affected by a security threat to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom by a dissident republican terrorist grouping?
  • A senior police officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has advised one of our local party executive committee that to ask for the details of both Irish and British passports of those who hold both is both racist and discriminatory under the terms of the Belfast Agreement 1998 (an international treaty), to which Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is a signatory.
  • Should we recruit new members who may, in the past have convictions or even security records held by police, who are now back in the community following the Belfast Agreement 1998, require accreditation at future conferences, these people will more than likely be flagged as a risk by the police. This would therefore mean that their rights as members of our Party would be denied. This is unacceptable.
  • Another problem is that were a constable to try to check our local party representatives’ local party details using the Federal Party website, he would be hard-pressed to find references to our local party on it. As I have outlined previously to Chris Fox, the link at the bottom of the Federal Party website marked ‘N. Ireland’ goes to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland’s website. In addition were anyone to check our local party by using our postcode, it will bring up that it is not there. Also by clicking on Northern Ireland on the map on the ‘In your area’ page, nothing is brought up. As I have said to Chris Fox this is not acceptable when we do have a local party operating in Northern Ireland.

I believe that all of these issues are extremely important not only to our Party itself but to the wider representation of society within politics in general. Is our Party, which is founded to ‘build and safeguard a fair, free and open society’ (Preamble to the Federal Constitution (which I believe is still in force or is that another change that will be forced upon us?)), going to be dictated to by an unelected, unrepresentative police force? I was not aware that the United Kingdom had become a police state.

I look forward to receiving your prompt reply on these crucially important issues.

Yours sincerely,

Michael

Michael Carchrie Campbell
Chair
Liberal Democrats NI