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4 April 2002 Edition

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Castlereagh arrests black propaganda

BY FERN LANE


     
  The whole exercise smacks of black propaganda, to which we have become accustomed over the past 30 years.  
- Mitchel McLaughlin

Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin has said that RUC/PSNI attempts to implicate republicans in the Castlereagh break-in represent a return to "the worst of times" of the British intelligence services' dirty war. The seizure of property belonging to ex-prisoner support group Tar Abhaile and the counselling service Cunamh, as well as the arrest and interrogation of one of Tar Abhaile's workers was, he said, nothing more than a "fishing exercise".

He was speaking after violent police raids in Derry and Belfast last Saturday - the day before Ronnie Flanagan's long-awaited retirement - during which a total of six people were arrested.

"Any objective observer knows that the break-in at Castlereagh was an inside job," he said, "but the Special Branch, who have had untrammelled power for the last 30 years, showed on Saturday that they still have that power.

"Saturday's searches and arrests bear all the hallmarks of a Special Branch operation and once again they are showing that they are accountable to no one. The Police Board has been pushed aside and they have been exposed for the powerless entity they are. They do not have the power to mount a proper investigation into what happened at Castlereagh and their silence on Saturday's events shows just how limited their remit is.

"We have this so-called new police service showing that nothing has changed as they sledgehammer in doors and drag people from their beds and away to interrogation centres for what is essentially a fishing exercise. They seize all sorts of documents and computers of no relevance whatsoever to what they are supposed to be investigating, so they can gather more intelligence on the people of the North.

"The whole exercise smacks of black propaganda, to which we have become accustomed over the past 30 years."

Mitchel McLaughlin also observed that the truth about the alleged break-in is unlikely to ever emerge; and certainly, these arrests have made an already mysterious matter even more surreal. Given that a successful raid by the IRA on one of the supposedly most heavily fortified police stations in Europe would represent a humiliation of stratospheric proportions, the question arises as to why the security forces are so intent on concocting a story so profoundly damaging to their own prestige.

Although the break-in (the veracity of which some commentators are also starting to question) provided the police with an excuse to gather intelligence on nationalist and republicans in the north and to attempt to discredit ex-POW support groups, it also suggests that elements within the security establishment are either so desperate to cover up their activities, or equally desperate to discredit rival elements, that they are prepared to suffer the public believing that the IRA walked, virtually unhindered, into their stronghold.

In a statement issued on Saturday the Pat Finucane Centre, whose offices are in the same building as Tar Abhaile, reported that:

"At 7am local time today, officers from the RUC/PSNI's Belfast Crime Squad and Tactical Support Groups (TSGs) raided the offices of Tar Abhaile, the republican ex prisoners support group, at West End Park, the same building in which the Pat Finucane Centre has its premises.

"Using disproportionate force (a key was available) officers sledgehammered the door of one of the Tar Abhaile Offices and took away files, computers, discs, telephone books, diaries, notebooks and CDs.

"At the same time they made what can only be described as an extremely aggressive arrest operation, again using sledgehammers, of one of the Tar Abhaile workers at his home where he lives with his partner and very young children.

"Astonishingly, the RUC/PSNI are telling journalists that the operation, which includes the reported simultaneous arrests of five republicans at a number of other locations throughout the north, is connected with the March 17 break-in at Castlereagh.

"During the raid on the West End Park premises, hostile RUC/PSNI officers consistently denied PFC staff and management committee access to their offices to verify their property."

The Tar Abhaile worker in question, Declan Kearney, along with four others of those arrested over the weekend, was released on Monday without charge. Former POW John O'Hagan was charged on Wednesday morning with "having documents useful to terrorists" although the documents in question are unrelated to the Castlereagh break-in. Police targeting of nationalist homes continued with a raid on an Ardoyne family home on Wednesday, during which a children's computer was seized.

Declan Kearney's solicitor, Paddy McDermott, told the Derry Journal that during the two days he was held at Lisburn barracks, the police "did not produce one shred of evidence" against him, despite claiming that they had "reliable intelligence.

"Nor did they specify what this reliable intelligence was or where it was supposed to have come from," he said. "In fact, just how little they had to go on can be seen from the fact that, during the two days Mr. Kearney was held, he was interviewed only three times. Not once in those interviews was it put to him what he was supposed to have done."

The prisoner support umbrella group, Coiste na n-Iarchimí, condemned the arrests. In a statement, spokesperson for the group Mike Richie, said:

"In a supposed new era of policing, it was depressing to hear about the way in which the emergency laws were carried out:

the use of stun grenades and doors being sledge-hammered at dawn;
doors broken down to access offices despite the availability of keys;
no consideration given to very young children being present and the trauma inflicted on them;
family members held in rooms in their own house for the duration of the searches;
articles seized with no care as to the confidential nature of the contents;
the length of detentions despite the fact that questioning was entirely general and unspecific;
briefings to the media highlighting a story which failed to emerge in the context of the detention.
"The heavy handed manner in which the operation was carried out betrayed no hint of a new start to policing. It was also a stark reminder of the fact that emergency powers have no contribution to make in achieving a just peace in Ireland.

"We have no doubt that the stated reasons for the arrests and raids have no merit. We are equally certain that the effect of the police activity has been to blacken our reputations in relation to the achievement of equal citizenship for the political ex-prisoner community. The weekend arrests and raids are a clear indication that the police have both the intention and the means to continue to harass ex-prisoners, their centres and the agenda we pursue."

Speaking at an Easter Rising commemoration in New Lodge on Sunday, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams denounced the raids as a tactic to divert attention away from the activities of the security services and said: "Let's make it clear to John Reid and anyone else who's listening. Republicans will not be scapegoated and will not accept responsibility for the working out of the British agenda."


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