17 November 2005 Edition
Castlereagh collusion confirmed
BY LAURA FRIEL
Collusion: Gerry Adams details among hundreds leaked
The British government tried to suppress it. British sources briefed the media it was a "non story". The PSNI refused to comment and the then British NIO Minister Ian Pearson insisted, "There were no indications the material had fallen into the hands of paramilitaries."
Over a year after secret files containing the personal details of up to 400 republicans and nationalists were stolen from offices used by covert British army operatives at the PSNI Castlereagh complex, the PSNI have informed nationalists that their lives are in danger and their details are in the hands of unionist paramilitaries.
Sinn Féin confirmed on Wednesday afternoon last that party President Gerry Adams had been warned that his details were among those found in the hands of the death squads.
Commenting on this latest revelation Sinn Féin Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said: "Given the fact that the personal details of 400 people are believed to be contained in the Crown Forces dossier removed from Castlereagh and given to one of the loyalist gangs it will come as no surprise that more republicans are being visited this afternoon in addition to the 50 people spoken to last night.
"However what the visit to Gerry Adams' home today does prove is that as recently as July of last year the British state was still spying on the Sinn Féin leaders at a time when we were trying to advance the peace process.
"The British have attempted to cover up this collusion scandal involving the RIR since last July. The time for evasion is over. They have endangered people's lives for long enough. All those who have had their details passed to the loyalist gang must now be informed and the British must come clean on the extent of this operation.
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness reacted angrily after the blatant cynicism of those involved in the cover up was exposed this week. "The British government, British ministers and the PSNI have allowed at least 400 people and their families to live under threat for over 16 months without informing them of the danger," said McGuinness.
"The cynicism with which British officials decided to put people's lives further at risk rather than expose the truth about wrongdoing within their ranks is totally unacceptable. This is very serious. British forces not only colluded by making information available to unionist paramilitaries, the British authorities have further colluded by trying to keep it a secret," said McGuinness.
This week more than 50 republicans from were informed by the PSNI that their lives are in danger and their personal details had been found in the possession of unionist paramilitaries.
The PSNI have admitted the warnings are linked to documents originating from Castlereagh and discovered in the possession of unionist paramilitaries. They have also confirmed the documents are linked to a "security breach" in July 2004.
In July 2004 news of a security breach at the Castlereagh complex, which houses both Special Branch and British Military Intelligence, and the theft of documents fuelled media interest in what appeared to be another collusion scandal at the heart of the British occupation.
At the time the media claimed that the 'missing' documents amounted to "a British army bible of leading republicans across the north." It also emerged that 28 British soldiers, members of the notorious RIR, had been removed to other duties. The RIR unit in question had been based in Castlereagh and involved in manning observation posts in nationalist areas of Belfast.
In 2004 the PSNI insisted the incident was not a "break-in" and did not involve PSNI security. The PSNI refused to comment when asked about missing documents and reportedly reassured British Ministers that information had not been passed to unionist paramilitaries.
Despite the fact that the UDA claimed to have the material in their possession, reassurances to the contrary were repeated to the media by a British army spokesperson.
The cynicism of those reassurances, designed to disguise British army collusion and no doubt spare the blushes of presiding British Ministers, only emerged this week after 50 nationalists were informed that their lives had been, and continued to be, endangered.
Alex Maskey confirmed that around 50 people in the Short Strand area had been visited by the PSNI and informed their details were in the hands of local unionist paramilitaries.
"The people visited were told that their dates of birth were part of the documentation-clearly indicating that the source of information as being some official or statutory body," said Maskey.
"More than 50 people living in a small area have been told they could be under serious threat but I believe this document could contain the names and details of many more people in other areas of Belfast and throughout the north," he continue.
Maskey said the situation was even more serious in light of the fact that the main unionist paramilitary organisations had so far ruled out giving up their weapons.
"This revelation, as well as recent unionist paramilitary violence, would indicate they still pose a serious threat both in relation to sectarian attacks and the loyalist feud," he pointed out.
Speaking at a Belfast press conference Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly confirmed that he had met with British Minister Ian Pearson in 2004 and tabled a series of questions about the Castlereagh incident.
"I asked him a number of questions including how many documents were 'missing', the nature of the information, the role of the RIR and whether information had been passed to unionist paramilitaries. To each and every question Pearson replied, 'no comment'," said Kelly.
Martin McGuinness said Sinn Féin will raising the matter urgently with both the British and Irish governments. "This is a very serious situation. Fifty families have been informed that their lives are in danger; there are possibly 350 more yet to be informed. Even where families have been informed of the threat, the PSNI have offered no details as to its nature while offering no prospect of meaningful protection."