Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain will hold crisis talks with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams today following the unmasking of a trusted aide to the West Belfast MP as a British spy.
The talks have been arranged after the expulsion from Sinn Féin of its former head of administration at Stormont, Denis Donaldson, after he confessed to having worked as an agent for police special branch and Army intelligence.
Mr Hain will also meet the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern at Hillsborough Castle.
Their meeting was originally to focus on a way forward in the two governments’ efforts to restore devolution.
However, it is likely to be dominated by the political fall out from the Stormontgate spy ring affair which led to the collapse of the power sharing executive three year’s ago.
Mr Adams had a lengthy telephone conversation with the Northern Ireland Secretary on Saturday.
A republicans came to terms with the revelations about Mr Donaldson and increasing speculation that another mole operated within their movement, the west Belfast MP warned that dissident elements within the British security system were undermining progress in the peace process by the IRA.
The Sinn Féin leader said: “Following the historically significant initiatives by the IRA in recent months a new opportunity has been opened up to make progress.
“The New Year will see important efforts being made to restore the political institutions.
“All of this is at risk because of these dissident elements within the British system.
“The onus to stop this lies with the British government.
“It has to take whatever steps are necessary to rein in the wreckers who are opposing British Government policy and there has to be an end to political policing.”
In October 2002 Mr Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and civil servant William Mackessy were arrested and accused of involvement in an intelligence gathering operation at Stormont by republicans.
Police Land Rovers swarmed around Parliament Buildings as Sinn Féin’s offices on the Stormont estate were raided.
The arrests and the raids led to the then Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid suspending the Assembly and other devolved institutions.
Devolution has not been restored.
After a three-year legal battle, the Public Prosecution Service announced 11 days ago in Belfast Crown Court that it was dropping the case against the three men because it was no longer in the public interest.
The affair took a sensational twist last Friday when Sinn Fein unmasked Mr Donaldson as a spy.
The 55-year-old approached senior party officials after being told his cover was about to be blown.
He appeared on Irish television on Friday night reading a statement confessing that he had spied on his colleagues in the Republican Movement for 20 years after being compromised during a vulnerable time in his personal life.
Mr Donaldson also repeated Sinn Féin claims that there was no republican spy operation at Stormont, insisting that it was a scam and a fiction dreamt up by Special Branch.
Unionists and the moderate nationalist SDLP have pressed Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr Hain and the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith for a House of Commons’ statement, explaining what the Government knew about the Stormontgate affair at the time of the arrests and when the case was eventually dropped.
In the wake of Mr Donaldson’s confession, those demands have hardened and the cross community Alliance Party has also demanded an independent judicial inquiry to get to the truth.
Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds said his party would this week press in the House of Commons for the Prime Minister to explain what he knew.
“The people of Northern Ireland deserve answers – not least the hundreds of families forced to take security precautions as a result of he spy ring affair,” the North Belfast MP said.
Nationalists SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley also said Sinn Féin had questions to answer.
The Newry and Armagh MLA said: “In an attempt to exonerate Sinn Féin for its part in the Stormont spy ring, Gerry Adams is currently expecting nationalists to believe the word of an MI5 agent with a 20-year history of spying and deception for the British.
“Despite the attempt at damage limitation in Friday’s Dublin press conference, nationalists, or indeed republicans, are not convinced by Mr Donaldson’s assertions.”