Northern Ireland Security Guard Service

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Cap Badge of the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service

The Northern Ireland Security Guard Service (NISGS) is a civilian organisation of the Ministry of Defence that provides armed security at military establishments in Northern Ireland.[1]

It was founded in 1998 following the Good Friday Agreement and is a unionised, non-industrial civilian security guard organisation under the authority of the General Officer Commanding (Northern Ireland), who holds ultimate responsibility for the operation of the organisation.[2] The NISGS works alongside the unarmed Ministry of Defence Guard Service (MGS).[3]

In the rest of the United Kingdom, armed security is the responsibility of the Military Provost Guard Service, made up of service personnel.

Civilian Security Officer[edit]

An NISGS Civilian Security Officer (CSO) is attested by a magistrate as a Special Constable[4] whilst on duty within Ministry of Defence property. They hold similar powers to that of a Police Constable based on the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1947. A CSO has the powers of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE).[5]

Massereene Barracks incident[edit]

In 2009 CSOs at Massereene Barracks were criticised[6][7] for not opening fire during an incident in which two British soldiers were killed when the barracks was attacked by members of the Irish republican paramilitary group, the Real IRA who were armed with AKM automatic rifles.[8] However the actions of the CSOs were praised by Brigadier George Norton, the Army's most senior soldier in Northern Ireland at the time.[9] This was the first time that a barracks guarded by the NISGS had come under a direct attack.[10]

Following the incident at Masseerene Barracks in 2009 plans were made to retrain and rearm CSOs belonging to NISGS.[8][11]

Uniform and equipment[edit]

NISGS Civilian Security Officers (CSO) wear a unique and distinctive light blue uniform in order to be identifiably different from the military and PSNI personnel with whom they interact. The principal reason for NISGS' creation after the Good Friday Agreement was to place the guarding of MOD premises in the Province on a primarily civilian footing with military backup, as in mainland UK. It was felt that establishing the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS) in the Province would still be seen as an overtly "military" force. As the NISGS is analogous to the MOD Guard Service(MGS), an identifiably different uniform that is neither "police" nor "military" in character was seen as essential to establishing them as a clearly civilian force among local communities, from where most members came.

Because the Crown is exempt from the provisions of the Firearms Acts, Crown Servants may carry firearms in the course of their duties if duly authorised to do so. Conversely, the MOD Guard Service are not authorised to carry firearms in Northern Ireland, as well as in Great Britain where the Military Provost Guard Service provides armed guarding. In addition to the Crown firearms exemption, attesting NISGS CSOs as Special Constables allows them to be armed on the same basis as PSNI Police Officers Part Time, the equivalent of mainland Special Constables.

Prior to the Masseerene Barracks incident NISGS CSOs were armed with the venerable L9A1 9mm Browning Hi-Power single-action automatic pistol, primarily and deliberately for self-defence. Following that incident and the recognition that the very short accurate range generally achievable with any pistol even under ideal conditions was a factor in not returning fire in that incident, NISGS CSOs were quickly re-armed with the L85A2 Individual Weapon. This is a 5.56 mm calibre selective fire assault rifle, generally referred to as the 'SA80', and is the current standard UK military issue personal weapon. These were readily available from MOD stocks as an interim solution but were accepted to be overly powerful for the NISGS armed guarding role because of the long lethal range (up to 500 metres (1,600 ft)) and short-range over-penetration of the ammunition, and the availability of fully automatic fire. In early 2012 an agreement was reached between MOD and PSNI to acquire surplus Heckler & Koch MP5 9mm submachine guns from PSNI to re-arm NISGS CSOs. These weapons are limited to firing single shots or 3-round bursts which, coupled with their less powerful and shorter-lethal-range 9mm Parabellum pistol ammunition, provides NISGS with a more appropriate firearm for their role.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Northern Ireland Security Guard Service: 13 Mar 2009: Hansard Written Answers and Statements". TheyWorkForYou. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  2. ^ "The state of the Union - Brendan O’Neill". Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  3. ^ MOD Guard Service, GOV.UK. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland Security Guard Service - Forum". Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  5. ^ MOD (A) Northern Ireland Guard Service Archived 15 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Bingham, John (10 March 2009). "Northern Ireland barracks guards not up to job – Patrick Mercer". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  7. ^ Bowcott, Owen (9 March 2009). "Brigadier George Norton defends security levels and guards' response to Real IRA attack". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  8. ^ a b Rayment, Sean (14 March 2009). "Murdered soldiers' bodies flown home from Northern Ireland without ceremony". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  9. ^ "BBC NEWS Northern Ireland - MPs to review NI barrack security". BBC News. 11 March 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  10. ^ Lea, Michael; Greenhill, Sam; Wright, Stephen; Firth, Niall. "Fury as Adams says British special forces provoked pizza delivery murders of unarmed soldiers - Mail Online". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  11. ^ "Review into civilian guards in N.Ireland". Defence Management. Archived from the original on 2013-01-22. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 

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