11 December 2005

Collapse of spy-ring case 'suspicious', say senators

Sunday Independent

ALAN MURRAY and SHANE HICKEY

THE failure of the prosecution service in Northern Ireland to provide an otherwise satisfactory explanation was yesterday fuelling speculation that the mysterious collapse of the Stormont spy ring trial was caused by political interference.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were yesterday more anxious to look to developments in the North's political process next year than to dwell on the political fallout of the bizarre end to the spy ring case.

The Public Prosecution Service yesterday did nothing to ease public concern by refusing to engage on informed speculation which might have explained the trial's collapse.

It was being speculated that a special counsel appointed by the UK Attorney General to examine secret papers related to the case successfully argued in camera against the inclusion of certain documents which might expose an informer within the ranks of Sinn Fein.

The absence of a proper explanation for the collapse of the trial led to growing speculation in Dublin yesterday of political interference.

Two senators, John Minihan of the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael's Brian Hayes, were yesterdaydemanding answers.

In a dramatic development on Thursday, the prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court that it was withdrawing all evidence against the men and a prosecution was "no longer in the public interest".

With no evidence against them, Mr Justice Hart ruled that the three men should be found not guilty.

He acquitted Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and civil servant William Mackessy after the Public Prosecution Service said it would offer no further evidence.

The three were arrested in October 2002 at the time of a police raid on Sinn Fein's offices at Stormont.

Donaldson, 55, of Altnamonagh Crescent in West Belfast, and his son-in-law, Kearney, 34, of Commedagh Drive, were charged with having information which was likely to be of use to terrorists. Civil servant Mackessy, 47, from Wolfend Way in North Belfast, was also charged.

Yesterday, the Progressive Democrat senator, John Minihan said there were now serious questions to be answered. He said: "I think everybody is entitled to an explanation as to why it collapsed or indeed, if the evidence wasn't there, why charges were pressed in the first place."

He added: "It is imperative that the Crown Prosecution Services give a very clear and unambiguous explanation of why it was dropped, otherwise we are leaving the whole charade open to accusations."

Fine Gael Senator Brian Hayes said he would be "very suspicious" of the way in which the charges were dropped, given the fact that in recent months everybody had been led to believe that there was solid evidence against the individuals concerned.

Mr Hayes said the possibility of political intervention in the case was "one possible interpretation".

Yesterday the Public Prosecution Service refused to even confirm whether a 'Special Counsel' saw the secret papers at the heart of the Stormontgate affair.

Despite attempts to get answers from the PPS it refused to confirm if the British Attorney General had appointed a Special Counsel to examine the secret papers and recommend what documents should be seen by defence lawyers in the case.

In February Mr Justice Coghlin took the unprecedented step of asking Sir Peter Goldsmith to appoint a senior barrister not connected with the case to examine the secret police and intelligence service documents relating to the IRA's Stormont spy ring.

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