09 December 2005

Paisley demands Hain meeting after 'spy ring' acquittals


08/12/2005 - 17:39:42

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain faced demands tonight from the Rev Ian Paisley for a meeting over the dropping of charges against three men accused of operating a republican spy ring at Stormont.

In an unexpected move, prosecutors told Belfast Crown Court it was no longer in the public interest to pursue a case against Sinn Féin’s head of administration Denis Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and civil servant William Mackessy.

The arrests of the three men led to the suspension of devolution in Northern Ireland in October 2002 by the British government and the reimposition of direct rule from Westminster which remains to this day.

While Sinn Féin claimed the dropping of charges showed allegations of a spy ring were concocted to bring down power sharing institutions, Mr Paisley alleged the decision was taken because it was politically expedient.

The Democratic Unionist leader said: “The right thinking people of Ulster will be totally flabbergasted at the decision taken to drop all prosecutions on the IRA spy ring at Stormont because after a three year delay it has been decided that it is not in the public interest.

“I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State and hope to talk to the Prime Minister in the near future.”

Mr Donaldson, 55, and his 34-year-old son-in-law, Mr Kearney had been accused of having documents of use to terrorists.

A third man, 47-year-old civil servant William Mackessy, was charged with collecting information on the security forces.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland was criticised by Sinn Féin at the time of the arrests for carrying out a high profile raid on their offices at Stormont.

In a statement, the PSNI today said it noted and understood the reasons given by the Public Prosecution Service for the withdrawal of charges and it believed the three men were entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The police insisted the Provisional IRA was actively involved in the systematic gathering of information and targeting of individuals.

“Police investigated that activity and a police operation led to the recovery of thousands of sensitive documents which had been removed from government offices,” the statement said.

“A large number of people were subsequently warned about threats to them.

“That police investigation has concluded. There are no further lines of inquiry and no individuals are being sought by the police.”

The Northern Ireland Office said the dropping of the charges was solely a matter for the prosecutors but it noted the PSNI’s insistence that the IRA was involved in intelligence gathering and that documents were recovered.

“It is also a matter of record that it was the actions of paramilitaries in gathering and removing these documents and the damage that was done to political confidences as a result that led to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly,” the NIO said.

“The Government is determined that confidence will be rebuilt and that devolved Government in Northern Ireland will be restored. It will continue to work tirelessly to achieve that goal.”

A statement issued through Mr Donaldson and Mr Mackessy’s solicitors, Madden and Finucane, said their clients were victims of a plot by elements within the police to subvert the peace process.

Mr Kearney’s solicitors, Kevin Winters and Co, said: “There can be no suggestion that Mr Kearney is technically not guilty. He was and remains completely innocent of any allegation.

“The case, such as it was, and the so-called ‘evidence’ to justify it remains unchanged from October 2002.

“This case achieved its political aim and the prosecution today closed it but there remains some major concerns which will be pursued in another forum.”

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who will hold a press conference with the men tomorrow at Stormont, claimed the operation which led to their arrests was the most blatant example of political policing.

The West Belfast MP said: “Faceless securocrats subverted the democratic wishes of the electorate north and south who voted for the Good Friday Agreement.

“The collapse of this case should now focus attention on to the Special Branch and those responsible for planning, carrying out and authorising this entire operation.”

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