British not to be pressed for spy ring probe

THE Government will not press the British Government for an inquiry into spy rings and the so-called Stormontgate affair, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said last night.

Mr Ahern, speaking after meeting Northern Secretary Peter Hain in Belfast, said that an inquiry would be unlikely to get to the truth and would delay the political process. “It would take years and be used by people as an excuse to do nothing,” he told RTÉ.

However, Mr Ahern said the he had “exhorted” Mr Hain to make as much information as possible available about the existence of a so-called republican spy ring in Stormont in 2002 and the revelation that a senior republican charged for involvement with the spy ring was a British agent for two decades.

Sinn Féin’s senior administrator in Stormont, Denis Donaldson, was expelled from the party on Friday after admitting he had been an agent for police special branch and for British army intelligence for 20 years. He said the notion of a republican spy ring was a “sham”.

Yesterday, Mr Ahern said that he and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will meet the PSNI chief constable Huge Orde early in the new year for a briefing on some of the issues surrounding the spying allegations. He also suggested a possible role for police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.

In a comment that suggests the Government may adopt a pragmatic approach and seek to draw a line under the affair, Mr Ahern stressed the issue should not be allowed divert from the ultimate goal, the return of devolution to the North. “Security services in democratic societies do have intelligence operations.”

While describing the allegations as murky, he would not be drawn on the claim that a republican spy ring was operating in Stormont, as Mr Hain has contended.

Earlier Mr Hain had strongly stood over his claim. He said over a thousand documents, many sensitive and secret, had been stolen from Stormont and had later been found in West Belfast and elsewhere. In an outright rejection of an inquiry he said: “Frankly, we have had inquiries galore in Northern Ireland. They cost hundreds of millions of pounds.”

When asked about Mr Donaldson’s role, he said: “I made clear that no government, no security force, ever talks about sources of information that it might or might not have.

He added: “Nobody talks about that because its not in the national interest.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who also met Mr Hain yesterday, criticised Mr Hain’s dismissal of an inquiry. “Essentially this issue is about the need for the British government to both accept responsibility for what has happened and what is happening and also to end political policing.

“A very unique power-sharing administration was toppled after centuries of conflict ... The truth of the matter is that British agencies were at the heart of that coup d’etat,” he said.

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