Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Spy revelation puts pressure on Blair

MOLE Calls for a probe in Northern Ireland are mounting after a former Sinn Fein leader was cleared of spying for the IRA but admitted spying for the UK government

AFP , BELFAST

Former Irish Republican Army commander Martin Meehan, center in brown hat, of the Sinn Fein party -- the IRA-linked party -- at a party picket with other Sinn Fein supporters, outside North Queen Street Station, in Belfast on Saturday. The picket was called in response to revelations about the former senior party member Denis Donaldson.

PHOTO: AP

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing mounting pressure to launch an investigation in Northern Ireland after a former Sinn Fein leader claimed he was a spy for the British government for 20 years.

The scandal erupted on Friday when Denis Donaldson, who had just been cleared of charges of spying for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), admitted that after all he had been a spy -- but for the other side.

Donaldson, 55, told Irish state RTE television that for two decades he spied for the British intelligence services within the ranks of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing and the main Catholic party in Northern Ireland seeking to break away from London and unite with the Republic of Ireland.

The admission by Donaldson -- a respected party member who was Sinn Fein's head of administration during the brief life of the now suspended Northern Ireland Assembly -- sent shock waves across the British province and beyond.

By Saturday political leaders in Northern Ireland were calling for a public inquiry into the spying allegations, which may further complicate efforts to restart the so-called Good Friday peace accord of 1998, aimed at ending the decades of violence between Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups.

"There must be no attempt at cover-up, the democratic right of the people to be informed must be honored," said Ian Paisley, hardline leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the chief loyalist and Protestant grouping.

"The only way to get to the truth is a full public inquiry, this is the very least the [British] prime minister and the Northern Ireland Secretary can do," Ulster Unionists leader Reg Empey said.

Blair has not yet officially commented on Donaldson's confession in which he claimed that British intelligence had begun paying him in the 1980s after he had compromised himself during a "vulnerable time" in his life.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, the British government's representative in the province, told reporters on Saturday that there would be no immediate reaction to the calls for an inquiry.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness was a bit more skeptical about an investigation.

"What would a public inquiry achieve? The unionists have asked for it, let's see if they get one," McGuinness told BBC Ulster radio.

"We believe that any inquiry would cover what we have said, that there was a spy ring at Stormont, a British spy ring," McGuinness said, adding that "we will be seeing the British prime minister very shortly."

McGuinness was referring to the first eruption of spying allegations in 2002.

That year Donaldson was at the center of claims that the IRA was operating a spy-ring in Belfast's Stormont parliament buildings.

After he was charged, the so-called Stormontgate affair poisoned relations in the power-sharing administration between Catholic and Protestant parties, triggering a political crisis that resulted in London suspending the executive government and resuming control of the province.

About a week ago Donaldson and two other men were acquitted of those charges of spying for the IRA because of lack of evidence.

From Brussels where he is attending a EU summit, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern expressed his confusion and concern about the spying allegations.

"This was a huge case," Ahern said, referring to Stormontgate. "It doesn't get much bigger than bringing down democratically elected institutions that people have voted for."

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