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6 September 2000 Edition

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Brits face de Chastelain bugging claim

The British government has been accused of another serious breach of faith after a report in the Sunday Times on 3 September that a bugging device has been found in a hotel room used by members of the international decommissioning body headed by General John de Chastelain.

The paper claimed the device was discovered by a chambermaid at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on Friday, 1 September. The Northern Ireland Office told An Phoblacht that, whilst it could confirm that ``an object was found and the police have taken it away for examination'', it operated ``a policy of not commenting on matters of this nature'' and could not say either how long the device had been in the room or when the police would be able to reveal the outcome of their examinations. Thus far, Secretary of State Peter Mandelson has also declined to offer any public explanation on the discovery.

These new revelations are just the latest in a long line of discoveries of bugging devices placed by British security forces to monitor almost all the parties involved in the Good Friday Agreement, most particularly Sinn Féin, and comes as no great surprise. The party has long learned to work under the assumption that its members are under intense and continual surveillance. In 1997, Gerry Kelly recovered a bug hidden in the attic of his own house and in 1998, the Sinn Féin offices in Stormont were also discovered to be under surveillance, necessitating a move.

Perhaps most seriously, a bug was found in the car used by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during the 1999 review of the Good Friday Agreement, seriously jeopardising that process. The then secretary of state, Mo Mowlam, admitted authorising the placing of the device by the intelligence services and sought to justify this with the same implausible claim made by every other British secretary of state when confronted with evidence of British underhand activities in the Six Counties - saying that she did it in order to ``save lives''.

Interestingly, The Sunday Times report was co-written by Chris Ryder, a former member of the Six-County Police Authority (PANI), and known to have close links with the RUC. The Sunday Times is, of course, deeply opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and has continuously and enthusiastically thrown its weight behind the calls for ``resolute security action'' as outlined by its correspondent Michael Gove in his pamphlet ``The Price of Peace''. This is an anti-Agreement tirade published by the right-wing think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, which has found a great deal of favour with those in the No-camp.

Since it is extremely unlikely that the Europa Hotel leaked information about the discovery, Ryder's most likely source for the story is therefore the RUC itself, all of which strongly suggests that there are elements within the Crown forces who are working with their supporters in the media not only to try and discredit the decommissioning body and its work, but also, in doing so, to undermine the entire Good Friday Agreement.

Commenting on this latest discovery, Sinn Féin's Michelle Gilnernew described the bugging revelations as ``extremely alarming and worrying.

``We will be writing to both General de Chastelain and NIO minister Adam Ingram to seek clarification on this issue,'' she said. ``If proved to be true, this incident would constitute a serious breach of faith and could have far reaching consequences for the Good Friday Agreement itself.''
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