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It all leads somewhere... but not to an assembly

(Brian Feeney, Irish News)

Well, now we know. There was at least one spying operation at Stormont, but it was a British one. Unfortunately that's the only fact we do know. As the British proconsul and his administration twist and turn to try to find a plausible explanation for the fiasco into which MI5 and the police sucked the courts, the prosecution service and the future of political institutions here, the playwright Harold Pinter's words in his Nobel prize acceptance speech last week are relevant.

"The majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us, therefore, is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed."

What else can we deduce from the tapestry of lies?

First, if Denis Donaldson was a British agent, then the case that brought down Stormont was always going to collapse. He was hardly going to go to jail to oblige his handlers, happy as they might have been to sacrifice him.

Secondly, the PSNI stunt at Stormont was just that. The police had already made arrests that morning and seized the documents they were to present as evidence.

We now know the police knew there was no incriminating material in the Sinn Féin office they raided. That's why they only lifted two disks off a desk-top and came out again. They didn't search the office. Besides, there were several Sinn Féin offices at Stormont. They only raided Denis Donaldson's.

Yesterday's (Friday) new information raises many more questions than answers.

Did the PSNI and MI5 use Donaldson as an agent provocateur and, if so, to what extent?

Did they use him to feed certain files to Sinn Féin? Did they plant certain inaccurate material for him to pass on?

To what extent were they trying to steer Sinn Féin's political agenda, its reaction to certain political developments, by passing selected information?

We don't know. Nor does Sinn Féin. They have no means of knowing what Donaldson told them was accurate or truthful. Neither would he.

No wonder Gerry Adams is raging. It's a huge embarrassment for republicans.

Naturally they will try to minimise Donaldson's role in the movement. They point out he was not on the ard chomhairle, not on their negotiating team and so on.

However, it's impossible to get round the awkward fact that he was their head of administration at Stormont and would have seen documentation of a very sensitive nature passing across his desk.

There's not much the British would not have known about Sinn Féin's plans. It's OK for the British to spy on Sinn Féin but not for Sinn Féin to spy on the British.

Another difficult question for Sinn Féin. How many more traitors in their midst? How were the police sure enough that Donaldson was going to be exposed to tell him earlier this week? Have they someone in, or senior to, the republican investigating team?

More serious questions. Did the proconsul for the time being, John Reid, know MI5 were running a spying operation against Sinn Féin? Did the director of intelligence and security at the NIO? If so, did he tell Reid? If not, why not?

If Reid knew, why did he let the police bring down the powersharing executive when there was never any chance of bringing a successful prosecution?

If he didn't know, then the security services are running the north and deciding the fate of its political institutions.

One other item you can be pretty sure of is that Tony Blair didn't know. Otherwise, why would he have knocked his brains out trying to cobble an executive together and keep the glue sticking if he was aware his security services were going to wreck all his work? Why didn't he know?

Finally, do you think Hugh Orde would have kept our present proconsul informed and if not, why not? All of which makes the Policing Board look like an expensive charade.

What does it do for the odds on an executive in 2006? Who does that suit? Not nationalists.

December 18, 2005

This article appeared first in the December 17, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News