04 January 2006

Sinn Fein figures brave rumor mills

Irish Echo

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST - Republicans are accusing British security agencies and the police of deliberately spreading false rumors alleging named ex-prisoners and leading Sinn Fein figures are informers and spies.

After the former prisoner and Sinn Fein member, Denis Donaldson, admitted being a British spy for 20 years, the climate in republican circles is such that that some are accepting the rumors as fact without any supporting evidence.

Sinn Fein sources say the purpose of spreading the speculation is to subvert the peace process by causing dissension within republican ranks.

It's believed that as many as five people in West Belfast (all considered solid republicans) have been phoned by journalists who claim they are on the brink of being publicly "outed" as informers.

The reports are said to be causing untold misery to the victims' families and friends and creating uncertainty in the wake of the Donaldson revelations. Senior Sinn Féin sources have said such uncertainty is the desired outcome by those responsible.

One man suffered the indignity of watching as the media camped outside his home in West Belfast. His name had been circulating as a possible informer without any cause or evidence that he could ascertain.

"This is complete fantasy stuff," said one senior Sinn Fein source. "The police, or whoever, are cynically putting people's names into the arena in the hope that someone will respond.

"It shows how seriously the British government should take this problem and rein in those behind this campaign of misinformation. Those behind the rumors want to spread paranoia amongst republicans as a spin-off to the Donaldson affair.

"We won't let that happen. Republicans have been here before and are treating this like the black propaganda campaigns that the Brits have been involved in throughout the Troubles.

One of the names being bandied about has already been investigated by the IRA leadership after a similar report last year. He was cleared of any involvement in informing to the British.

Despite republican disclaimers that they are "running scared" in the wake of the reports, nothing can be sure after the Donaldson revelations. He had been considered a 100 percent reliable republican.

But the same Sinn Fein source said people would settle down again after a few days and realize what the police and British agencies were up to.

"Every time a police car stops outside someone's house, people are wondering what it means. There is no doubt the police and the spooks are trying to make the most of the situation."

Sinn Fein believes the reports have another motive, other than spreading suspicion and fear. The party sources say that if anyone named does leave home in a hurry, as a result, it could influence this month's report from the Independent Monitoring Commission.

If the police are involved in what amounts to a "shopping trip" by naming people to journalists as alleged informers, and if they hit on the name of someone who does fear exposure, it could be interpreted as evidence that the IRA is still active.

If so, it could be used by the Commission in its vital report this month and seized on as evidence by Ian Paisley's DUP as another reason not to either talk or share power with Sinn Fein.

Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty said the Stormontgate affair had highlighted the issue of "political policing." He said that people are at least now aware of what the term means and how it could damage the peace process.

"Instead of trying to defend the indefensible, it would suit the policing establishment better if they got their house in order. They now have a big job of work to try and convince nationalists and republicans that they are capable of operating in an accountable and acceptable fashion," he said.

This story appeared in the issue of January 4 - 10, 2006

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