Senior Conservative MPs said MI5 should be given the lead to end rivalry over intelligence-gathering between Army units in the Province and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has its own system of informants. 'They are sometimes more interested in their own rivalry than the war against the IRA. We have got to sharpen the intelligence-gathering role. The Army does not think very highly of the RUC's intelligence gathering,' one Westminster source said.
MI5 under Stella Rimington, the Director General, has been given the lead in counter-terrorism on the mainland, and sources have alleged that the security service is also seeking to take over that role in Northern Ireland. The issue was raised by Labour leaders at a meeting with the police authority in Ulster, although Conservative unionists believe it would be wrong to undermine the RUC's role, which they insist is effective.
Ministers have denied to the Independent that there is a power struggle going on. 'Stella Rimington has not asked for the lead, as far as I know,' one well-placed source said.
Security experts said MI5 had yet to prove its value in fighting terrorism on the mainland. 'They have no understanding of the rules of evidence and what is admissible in a court. There are strong doubts about whether it is wise to entrust this role to them,' one insider said.
However, there is a history of rivalry between the intelligence services in Northern Ireland, and the pressure for a lead to be taken by MI5 is growing with the gloomy realisation among ministers that the IRA is playing for time, and will not end the violence.
The Prime Minister signalled to John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, at their meeting on Friday that he intends this week to raise the tempo of interparty talks on the future of Ulster, increasing the pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA to enter the talks process by ending violence.
Senior Tories believe intelligence will be more crucial in reducing the ability of the IRA to continue its campaign of violence because of the Government's reluctance to bring back internment and to wage a more aggressive military campaign.
Ministers are anxious to avoid a security crackdown, which could undermine the international support for the Downing Street declaration that has put the IRA on the defensive.
Sinn Fein representatives in the US are appealing to Washington to lift its ban on a visa for Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader. He was denied the visa by President Bill Clinton on the grounds that he was involved in terrorism. However, the Irish-American lobby is demanding a review of the ban, and is exploiting the disclosure that the British government communicated with the IRA and Sinn Fein.
The British government is urging the US government to reject the visa application Mr Adams lodged on Friday in Dublin. The Home Office confirmed on Friday that it had rejected an appeal to lift an exclusion order permitting Mr Adams to visit Britain.Reuse content