25 December 2005

Outrageous sabotage, but no-one wants to know

Sunday Business Post

25 December 2005
By Vincent Browne

It might be the most significant story for decades: the sabotage of institutions established under constitutional arrangements voted for by more than 85 per cent of the people of Ireland.

It might not turn out to be quite so significant, but Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, for one, thinks it is about as big as it gets. Yet there has been almost no coverage in the media here about the issue of possible sabotage.

There has been lots of stuff about the possibility of another mole within the republican movement and the embarrassment the whole affair has caused that movement. But whether these stories are true or not, surely the glaringly outstanding issue is the question of sabotage.

It is not at all implausible that Sinn Féin was engaged in spying at Stormont - and indeed elsewhere.

Remember a Sinn Féin activist down here was caught with details of politicians' living arrangements? What is that if not spying, although some of the media nowadays regard it as “investigative journalism'‘.

But just look at what happened in the so-called Stormontgate affair. Television companies were tipped off in time to enable them to film the dramatic assault on the Sinn Féin offices at Stormont by hordes of boiler-suited police. Once inside the Sinn Féin offices, what did the police do?

Almost nothing.

Sinn Féin has over 20 offices at Stormont, and the police ignored almost all of them. They took two disks from a desk in one of the few offices they visited, but they had to return these a few days later as they were of no consequence. Then off they went.

All theatre. Not alone did the police not find anything at Sinn Féin's offices in Stormont, but they didn't even look for anything. Meanwhile, the cameras continued to roll outside.

Then off went the police to where they came upon some 1,200 documents, all to do with conversations between Tony Blair and George Bush, memos of meetings between the British government and party leaders, documents of security personnel. A fantastic haul. And where did they ‘find' these? In the home of their own agent and informer, Denis Donaldson.

They found nothing else anywhere, aside from information on a civil servant's laptop, which they later discovered was on the computers of everyone else in the section she worked in.

Suppose that, on October 4, 2002, the media had told the world that these storm troopers had raided Sinn Féin offices at Stormont but couldn't be bothered visiting more than a few offices; that they found a few disks that were entirely harmless; and that nothing else was found of any consequence apart from a haul of documents in the house of a British secret service mole.

What would have been the reaction? I suspect it would have been one of laughter and derision.

But because the public wasn't told this and because politicians were led to believe this was some very big deal - David Trimble said it was worse than Watergate - it caused a major crisis, leading to the suspension of the Northern power-sharing executive and the all-Ireland institutions, all established by the mandate of the people of the island of Ireland.

In the three years since then, there has been no hope of restoring these institutions, that were all constitutionally mandated, in part because of the crisis generated that October.

Remember how we in the Republic changed our Constitution to accommodate the institutions that were swept away in that subterfuge of October 2002? Remember how we changed Articles 2 and 3? Personally, I couldn't care less about those, but the sabotage of constitutionally-mandated institutions. . .

All this seems to be quite amazing, but even more amazing is the media's indifference.

It is as though focusing on what the British and the Northern Ireland Special Branch did, however heinous, will give aid and comfort to the Provos - and we cannot have that at any cost, not at the cost of democracy, truth or fairness.

But the surprise doesn't end there.

Isn't it extraordinary that the one thing everyone now seems agreed on is that there should be no inquiry into the affair? Tánaiste Mary Harney said it was “the last thing we need'‘.

Even allowing for her gormless phraseology, is it really contended that the last thing we need to know is how a constitutional arrangement for which most of us voted was sabotaged by a fake security crisis?

The British government has failed to cooperate with inquiries into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of over 30 years ago, but could they refuse to institute an inquiry into what was going on in relation to this caper?

The only person I have heard calling for an inquiry is Trimble - and well he might.

The government that he led as First Minister fell as a result of this.

He lost the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party, as a consequence of this and subsequent developments, and his party has been trounced by the Democratic Unionists, again partly as a consequence.

We have had inquiries to beat the band - and even the banjo - over the last several years, so why not an inquiry into this?

With a bit of luck, some tough-minded people in the House of Commons might demand a parliamentary inquiry and we might find out something.

sbpost@iol.ie

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