09 January 2006

Did republicans spy on the married lives of political enemies?

Belfast Telegraph

By Michael McHugh
09 January 2006

The SDLP last night launched a bitter attack on Sinn Fein following reports that republicans may have been spying on the state of their opponents' marriages.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell accused Sinn Fein of sinking to the "lowest tactics" in gathering information about people's marriages and private lives.

The broadside follows reports in a Sunday newspaper that Sinn Fein politicians and employees sought details on unionists during a year-long operation at Stormont.

Dr McDonnell said it was time for Sinn Fein to come clean on who oversaw the secret probe.

"Spying and lying are profoundly damaging to the peace process. They undermine trust," he said.

"You cannot run a successful partnership administration if you are spying on your partners and lying about it to this day.

"It is time that Sinn Fein did the decent thing and told the truth for a change - and admitted who the MLA was who oversaw this spying."

Sources quoted in a Sunday newspaper yesterday suggested that senior Sinn Fein members were aware of the spy ring and were asked to gather intelligence on political opponents.

South Belfast MP Dr McDonnell added: "Sinn Fein told nationalists that they did not do the Northern Bank. They did.

"They told nationalists that they were co-operating in the investigation of the murder of Robert McCartney. They have not."

The row over Sinn Fein covert activity has been fuelled by the decision to drop charges against the former head of their Stormont administration, Denis Donaldson, and his subsequent admission that he was working as a British intelligence agent.

There have been widespread reports that a second Sinn Fein mole with a higher public profile than Donaldson may soon be unmasked.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said: "The allegations are based on the same British anti-peace process sources.

"The evidence is that there was a spy ring being operated by the British to bring down the political institutions."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night urged the political parties to move on from the Stormont spying controversy to focus on restoring devolved government to Northern Ireland.

"I think it would be helpful if we continue to try to normalise society in the North where nobody is watching anybody, where we have proper political parties, proper policing procedures and that we all move on in that kind of a vein," he said.

"To start checking who was spying on who, or if two spies were spying on each other, or maybe three spies were spying on each other, I'm afraid I would need to live to a very old age to ever resolve the Northern Ireland peace process."

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