18 December 2005

Hain defends Stormont 'spy ring' police

::: u.tv :::

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain today defended a police operation against republicans which brought down devolution in the province three years ago and led to the exposure of a Sinn Fein official as a British spy.

SUNDAY 18/12/2005 14:28:13
By:Press Association

Following the sensational revelation last Friday that Sinn Fein`s former head of administration at Stormont, Denis Donaldson, had spied on republicans since the mid 1980s, Mr Hain stood by the police operation against an alleged republican spy ring.

The police raid on Sinn Fein`s Stormont offices in October 2002 led to the suspension of power sharing by the then Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid.

It also resulted in the arrest of three men including Mr Donaldson.

BUT 10 days ago the Public Prosecution Service withdrew charges against the 55-year-old Sinn Fein official, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and civil servant William Mackessy at Belfast Crown Court, claiming it was no longer in the public interest to proceed with the case.

As republicans tried to get to terms today with the dramatic expulsion of Mr Donaldson by Sinn Fein after he admitted to senior party officials that he had been a British spy, Mr Hain disputed the Sinn Fein leadership`s claim that the only spy ring that operated at Stormont was run by the British intelligence service.

He told ITV`s Jonathan Dimbleby programme: "This is a turbulent event.

"Let us remind ourselves about what happened.
"Something like a thousand documents were stolen from the Northern Ireland Office over which I now preside.

"They appeared in a West Belfast situation. They disappeared. They were stolen.

"The police went in, praised by the (Police) Ombudsman (Nuala O`Loan) by the way because this is the most regulated, supervised police force now in the world.

"It`s not what it used to be.

"The Police Ombudsman, she said they have done not only what was justified but what was absolutely necessary.

"Then events unfolded and the prosecution felt that they could not proceed in the public interest."

The British government has faced increasing demands for a public inquiry into the Stormontgate affair since the collapse of the case against Mr Donaldson and his two co-accused.

However, those demands have grown even more intense after the unmasking of Mr Donaldson as an agent for police Special Branch and the British Army intelligence.

The Rev Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists, the nationalist SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and the cross community Alliance Party have demanded an explanation from the government.

Mr Hain is also expected to face questions from the Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern when they meet at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down tomorrow.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has also had to deal with disquiet among republicans who have been shocked by Friday`s revelations that the 55-year-old former head of the party administrative team at Stormont was an intelligence agent for the British.

Republicans were also facing mounting speculation that another high-placed mole existed in their ranks and could be exposed publicly like Mr Donaldson.

The rival nationalist SDLP`s vice-chair Eddie Espie suggested today Mr Adams should quit as Sinn Fein`s leader in the wake of the spying allegations.

"For 20 years, Denis Donaldson, one of Adams` closest allies, has been feeding information to the British intelligence services," he argued.

"Only a few days ago, Gerry Adams was happy to appear alongside Donaldson on the steps of Stormont, presenting him as a `victim of securocrats` and trying to tell everyone to move on from the Stormontgate affair.

"Now it transpires that Adams was singing the praises of an arch-British agent.

"As party leader throughout the period of Donaldson`s double agency, Gerry Adams was party leader. The buck stops with him. The only option now open is for Gerry Adams to resign."

In a city awash with rumours, there has been speculation that Mr Donaldson and his family have left their home in the heart of republican west Belfast.

Some reports have suggested they have gone into hiding in the Irish Republic while others have suggested they have fled to somewhere in Europe.

Mr Donaldson, a friend of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, confessed to his role as a British agent in his statement broadcast on Irish television on Friday night.

The former Sinn Fein official said he had been recruited as an agent after being compromised at a vulnerable time in his life and had been paid for the information he had passed to the British.

But he also stuck to Sinn Fein`s claims that there was no republican spy ring at Stormont.

"I was not involved in any republican spy ring in Stormont," he said.

"The so-called Stormontgate affair was a scam and a fiction, it never existed. It was created by Special Branch.

"I deeply regret my activities with British intelligence and RUC/PSNI Special Branch.

"I apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result of my activities as well to my former comrades and especially to my family who have become victims in all of this."

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