19 December 2005

SF challenges government over spy scandal

::: u.tv :::

MONDAY 19/12/2005 16:15:29

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Sinn Fein challenged the British Government today to state that its "war" against republicans was over.

Following a meeting between his party and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain to discuss the Stormont spy scandal, Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness said the initiative following the affair rested with the British Government.

The Mid-Ulster MP said: "Over the course of the last number of years, huge attempts have been made to twist Sinn Fein`s arm up its back to accept less than what is required in terms of policing.

"We haven`t made the mistakes that the SDLP have made. We have remained very surefooted on the issue.

"We have dealt with important questions over the last number of months - the IRA statement of July 28, the putting of weapons beyond use.

"We have answered all the big questions and all the big difficulties that surrounded the republican approach to the process.

"It is now time for the British to answer questions about their agents, about their agencies, and about their approach to the process.

"In fact, what we are calling on them to do is declare that their war against republicans and the peace process is finally over."

Republicans have been coming to terms since Friday with the dramatic revelation that Sinn Fein`s former head of administration Denis Donaldson had spied on colleagues for the police and British Army Intelligence for 20 years.

In October 2002 Mr Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and civil servant William Mackessy were arrested and accused of operating a republican spy ring at Stormont.

Sinn Fein`s offices at Stormont were also raided by the police, in scenes which led to the suspension of devolution and power sharing.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, power-sharing executive and other devolved institutions have not been restored since the incident.

After a three-year legal battle, the Public Prosecution Service announced that the charges against the three men at Belfast Crown Court were being withdrawn because it was no longer in the public interest to pursue a case.

But in another sensational twist last Friday, Sinn Fein unmasked Mr Donaldson as a British spy and expelled him from the party.

He appeared on Irish television admitting he had gathered intelligence for the British after being compromised at what he said was a vulnerable time in his life.

The 55-year-old also backed Sinn Fein`s argument that there had never been a republican spy ring at Stormont, claiming it was a scam and a fiction by Special Branch and British Intelligence.

Mr Donaldson and Sinn Fein`s version of events was challenged today by Mr Hain, who said they and others had to face facts.

"The fact is that there was a paramilitary intelligence gathering operation at Stormont," he said.

"The fact is that a huge number of stolen documents were recovered from a house in West Belfast.

"The fact is that these documents - many of them classified as secret and confidential - related not only to the work of the Northern Ireland Office but to contacts between the British and Irish Governments and with the American administration.

"The fact is that as a result, over 1,000 people had to be warned and it cost £35 million to ensure their safety."

Mr Hain also denied that the police operation at Stormont in October 2002 was politically motivated.

He noted that Northern Ireland`s Police Ombudsman, Nuala O`Loan, had investigated the events and found no evidence to substantiate allegations that the policing operation was political. The Minister also ruled out holding a public inquiry into the affair.

He said: "If it was not possible to proceed with this trial (against Mr Donaldson, Mr Kearney and Mr Mackessy) because, as the Director of Public Prosecutions decided, it was not in the public interest to do so, what purpose would an inquiry serve?

"Frankly, we have had inquiries galore in Northern Ireland. They cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

"I am not going down that road where it is quite clear that it is not in the public interest to do so."

Mr Hain headed to Hillsborough Castle for a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern to discuss the Stormontgate spy affair and also review the political process.

After a meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said his party was committed to bringing the process to completion.

The West Belfast MP added: "We are not going to be deflected by anything from that historic task.

"But it is not good enough for a British Secretary of State to simply dismiss the fact that his state agencies behave in the way they behave.

"In essence, what happened here was a very unique, power-sharing administration was toppled after centuries of conflict, centuries of discord.

"After 30 years of a very, very dirty war, a process was being coaxed into a new dispensation and one of the main legs of that was the very unique power-sharing arrangements and it was working but it was overthrown.

"It was suspended and the truth of the matter is that British agencies were at the heart of that coup d`etat."

Mr McGuinness said he had also raised the recent arrest and release of Sinn Fein Assembly member Francie Brolly during an investigation into a triple IRA car bomb attack in Claudy, County Derry.

The former Stormont education minister said: "There are people within the present PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and within British intelligence who are hostile to our participation in the peace process, who are hostile to the peace process, who are hostile to the Good Friday Agreement, who are effectively running rings around the British prime minister and Peter Hain.

"So it is their responsibility to bring all of that to an end."

Mr McGuinness said his party was determined not to allow hostile elements to succeed in derailing the peace process.

"Our message to them is that they are not going to succeed because we are not going to allow them to succeed," the Sinn Fein MP said.

"Time will pass. People will see all of this in a proper context.

"Where we need to be focused in the coming period is on what the two prime ministers (Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern) have indicated in the course of the last number of weeks that a big push is to be made.

"They say, and we will believe it when we see it, to get the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and running and that push is to begin in January.

"We`ll play our part in trying to make that happen."

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