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Employment checks now including MI5 'intelligence'

Republican community worker Sean Montgomery. Picture by Hugh Russell

EMPLOYEE criminal record checks are including information provided by the British intelligence services - in some cases linking people with no prior criminal record to paramilitary organisations.

Access NI is the criminal records disclosure agency in Northern Ireland within the Department of Justice. It carries out background checks for employers to establish if a candidate has a prior criminal record and the vetting is compulsory for people working with children or young people.

However, more recently checks carried out in Northern Ireland have included information provided by intelligence agencies including PSNI and MI5 that have linked individuals with no previous criminal records to proscribed organisations.

Sean Montgomery from the Markets area of south Belfast took a High Court challenge against a delay in issuing his Access NI certificate and the inclusion of uncorroborated intelligence on his check.

A former member of Sinn Féin Mr Montgomery left the party in 2005 over the stance on policing, took high court action after his check was returned stating he 'may be a suspected member of a paramilitary group' an allegation he strongly denied.

Having settled the case, he is now seeking damages for loss of earnings due to the delay.

Following his challenge the process was changed and the results of background checks are now sent to the applicant rather than directly to the employer.

Until recently only people not considered to be mainstream republicans have reported having intelligence-based information attached to their Access NI check.

However, the Irish News has learned a number of perceived 'dissident' loyalists have recently received employee background checks linking them to a paramilitary group.

Mr Montgomery claimed intelligence-related information is being used to prevent "those with differing political opinions" from seeking employment in the community sector.

"To claim, with no need to substantiate by producing evidence, that someone is linked to either a loyalist or republican group places that person at risk from attack and restricts their employment prospects and areas they can work in.

"It's a cop out saying they now send Access NI checks directly to the applicant because in reality if something like that shows up you're unlikely to show it to a potential employer.

"It's the abuse of a process that was set up to protect young people from sex offenders and is instead being used for political censorship."

The Department of Justice said: "Under the relevant legislation, the police can, on an enhanced Access NI check, disclose non-conviction information about the applicant they reasonably believe is relevant to the position for which the check has been sought and that it ought to be disclosed.

"Following changes on 2 November 2015, an individual can now appeal to an Independent Monitor if he or she believes the disclosure of the information doesn't meet the criteria in the legislation.

"In addition, the certificate issued now only goes to the applicant and the applicant decides whether he or she wishes to show to this to the potential employer".

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