22 December 2005

Time for spooks to come in from the cold

Kildare Nationalist

Thursday, December 22, 2005

WHAT an extraordinary island we live on. In the south, a government minister uses D·il privilege and confidential garda files to destroy a man’s reputation and livelihood, while in the north a British agent at the heart of Sinn Féin is hung out to dry by his erstwhile handlers. Both cases illustrate an abuse of power made more worrying by the fact that neither British nor Irish ministers seem to find anything wrong with it.

Take the Frank Connolly case first. The minister for nonsense Michael McDowell believes that Connolly, a former journalist who now heads the independent Centre for Public Inquiry, represents a serious threat to the security of the Irish state. This was his justification for leaking garda files to a national newspaper. Despite the eminent people sitting on the board of this relatively new body, Mr McDowell was so concerned at Connolly’s involvement that he launched a campaign that resulted in the effective destruction of the Centre for Public Inquiry as well as the blackening of an Irish citizen’s name. In the minister’s eyes, this was a good day’s work.

It should be a cause for alarm that a minister in charge of the internal security apparatus of this state takes such a cavalier attitude to civil rights and due process. Mr McDowell is answerable to us, the citizens of this country. He appears to think it’s the other way around.

Frank Connolly may well have questions to answer about whether or not he has ever been to Colombia and, if so, what he did there. However, this disgraceful episode is certainly not the way to go about getting those answers.

Mr McDowell’s pathological hatred of republicanism appears to be mirrored by the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland - or at least elements within it. How else to explain the so-called Stormontgate affair of 2002, when conveniently placed television cameras captured dramatic footage of the PSNI ‘raid’ on Sinn Féin’s offices at the Stor-mont Assembly? It was widely reported in the media that a ‘republican spy ring’ had been broken and the spies arrested.

It now appears that the only spies operating in Stormont were paid British agents. Yet this was the pretext for a high-ly public police raid that led to the deliberate collapse of a democratically-elected legislature. And they call this policing?

The taoiseach himself has said he is baffled, declaring that: “It never added up. A large number of police and huge armaments, storming in, to collect a few clerks and a few files and the TV was in first. It stretches my imagination.

“This was a huge case. It doesn’t get any bigger than bringing down democratically elected institutions that people voted for. What this is about I just don’t know.”

It seems obvious that some within the PSNI, particularly in the Special Branch, will never be able to reconcile themselves to the legitimate aspirations of Northern nationalists. To that end, they were willing and able to subvert the Northern Assembly. Until such time as the Special Branch is disbanded and the rogue elements within the PSNI are brought to heel, it is unreasonable to expect the nationalist community to make any positive moves on policing.

One can only hope that the New Year brings more enlightened political leadership on both sides of the border.

**Not holding my breath...

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