25 April 2002 Edition
IRA refutes allegations
"The IRA ceasefire is intact. The IRA is not targeting anyone. The IRA poses no threat to the Peace Process," a senior republican speaking with the authority of the IRA leadership told the media earlier this week. The press briefing came in the wake of the insidious campaign of anti republican disinformation to have emerged in recent weeks.
During the briefing, journalists were reminded that the two IRA initiatives on arms had been carried out "to save the Peace Process" while others were not fulfilling their obligations. "The IRA did not carry out Castlereagh, some section of British Intelligence did. The arrests and raids afterwards were used to create a smokescreen," he said.
Inflated and false claims have flooded the media within the last month heightening tensions within the Peace Process. Emotive front-page headlines "IRA has target list of Tories" fuelled the Anti Agreement lobby with anti republican propaganda. These were swiftly followed by renewed unionist threats to scuttle the institutions.
Belfast's Newsletter pushed the boat out further than most with the banner headline "Last days of peace?" followed by a claim that "speculation that the IRA is preparing for a renewal of the armed struggle has reached fever pitch". Following a string of "new allegations" said the Newsletter, "angry unionists have demanded that Sinn Féin be thrown out of the power sharing Executive".
If anyone is really in any doubt about the agenda behind the headlines, the Newsletter can be relied upon to be less reticent than others in spelling it out. UUP leader David Trimble is "under increasing pressure from hardliners within his party to take sanctions against Sinn Féin," it reported.
But this isn't a media-led campaign. The media were responding to an agenda emanating from elements within the PSNI/RUC and more specifically the Special Branch. A series of arrests and raids on the homes of republicans and on premises used by republican ex-prisoners produced nothing to link republicans with the St Patrick's Day raid on Castlereagh. Despite this, the mere fact of the PSNI operation was sufficient to colour the public perception of the incident.
Similarly, the arrest of a man, described by the media as a leading republican, in connection with the killing of a Catholic taxi driver in County Tyrone, made it to the front page of most newspapers. Less well reported was the fact that the loyalist Red Hand Defenders had already claimed the killing. Even less well reported was the fact that the arrested man was released without charge once news of his arrest had been widely circulated.
Towards the end of the week, the broadsheets at least were tempering their earlier enthusiasm. "Disgruntled special branch officers in Northern Ireland are being blamed for a series of leaks about the IRA which are designed to damage Sinn Féin in the run up to next month's general election in the Irish Republic," wrote The Guardian. Even "sources within Whitehall" admitted, "special branch appeared to be leaking like a sieve". A senior Whitehall source said: "Someone is leaking and it looks like special branch. It appears this is being done to damage Sinn Fein in the elections in the south."
Suspicions of a dirty tricks campaign were raised after the BBC in Belfast received details of a database uncovered during recent PSNI raids. In another 'leak' to the Sunday Telegraph, this time from "military intelligence in London", it was claimed that "senior IRA commanders bought Russian special forces rifles in Moscow last year."
This claim was later refuted by other "British officials", who said the Telegraph had been "provided with exaggerated details in another attempt to damage Sinn Féin".
Commenting, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said failed and faceless manipulators in the Special Branch and British Intelligence services are behind efforts to provoke a crisis in the peace process.
"The two governments and particularly the British government need to be very circumspect about how they respond to the current flurry of media speculation," said Adams. "Threats by anti-Agreement unionists to take action against Sinn Féin are nothing new. Some of them have built their careers on the word 'no'," he said. "Neither is it surprising that the British Tories are also exploiting the twists and turns of the Irish Peace Process in their battle with the Labour Party."
"The chief culprits in the present controversy are the failed and faceless manipulators in the Special Branch and British Intelligence service. Everyone needs to be very sceptical about stories emanating from these sources," said Adams.
Concerted effort to undermine Peace Process
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty says that we are presently witnessing a concerted effort to undermine the entire Peace Process by elements of British Intelligence.
"The massive scale of disinformation, inspired leaks, rumours and downright lies presently being spoonfed to a mainly compliant and unquestioning media by sections of British Intelligence is clear evidence that there is a concerted effort to scupper the entire Peace Process," he said.
"Reactionaries from all quarters are latching on to every snippet of black propaganda that is being disseminated with complete and utter relish. It is ironic that the most vocal elements using this black propaganda to claim that Sinn Féin is not committed to the Peace Process are those who have been most vehemently opposed to the Peace Process and Sinn Féin's role in that process from the start.
"For example, the Independent group of newspapers, who ran a vicous journalistic campaign against John Hume and Gerry Adams for their efforts in attempting to bring about a lasting peace, is once again to the fore in the vilification and demonisation of Sinn Féin in the mouth of elections in the 26 Counties.
"The leadership and membership of Sinn Féin have and are continuing to invest untold energy to make this process work. Unfortunately, others have and are continuing to invest all their energies at attempting to scupper the entire process.
Dungannon arrest part of ongoing PSNI/RUC campaign
Sinn Féin Mayor of Dungannon, Francie Molloy, said the arrest of a senior republican in Dungannon last weekend forms part of a PSNI/RUC campaign to victimise and demonise nationalists and republicans.
"In recent months we have seen the re-emergence of a very clear securocrat agenda to create confusion and doubt around the future of the RUC/PSNI and in particular the 'force within a force' that is the Special Branch," he said. "It is classic black propaganda.
"The political interference of the RUC/PSNI is nothing new. It highlights the many concerns Sinn Féin has with the current status of policing in the Six Counties and indeed the long road we need to travel before we have a genuine new beginning in the creation of a new policing service free from partisan political control."
Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, has also spoken out about the level of Crown forces harassment in the Dungannon area, including complaints of a recent doubling of army foot patrols and checkpoints. "There have been a number of British Army foot patrols in the local housing estates with 25 or more soldiers, which is totally over the top," she said. Pointing out the concern of the nationalist community given the record of harrassment and collusion with loyalist death squads, she questioned the British government's commitment to the peace process. "Nationalists have yet to experience any real or meaningful peace dividend," she said. "We are into our eighth year of peace process and so far the only evidence of demilitarisation has been purely cosmetic."