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10 October 2002 Edition

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Stormtroopers trample Agreement

Assembly collapse looks imminent



McGuinness, along with Bairbre de Brún and Caoimmhghín Ó Caoláin, will accompany Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street this morning. They will tell Tony Blair that the British government should not act outside the Good Friday Agreement by suspending the political institutions or expelling Sinn Féin from the Executive, as Trimble has demanded. They will also express their outrage at the PSNI raid on the party's offices last Friday and about the charges that have followed.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Adams said: "The job of the British government is to minimise the damage that will be done by any exodus of the unionists.

"Blair has been good on the issue. Now is the time for hands of history and for him to show that he is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement."

On Monday, Gerry Adams led a Sinn Féin delegation to meet Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Ahern has already rejected suspension as an option, and Sinn Féin urged him to strengthen that position.

They pointed out to Ahern also that it is absolutely essential that politics works and politics be seen to work and that key to all of that is the continuation of the institutions established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The meetings took place against a backdrop of nationwide protests by Sinn Féin in the wake of the latest crisis to hit the peace process. It began with the UUC meeting two weeks ago when the Ulster Unionists decided they were now an anti-Agreement party. This position was subsequently bolstered by morning raids on houses in Belfast and on Sinn Féin's Stormont offices last Friday, culminating in charges against four people.

Last week, the PSNI, and whoever else authorised the raid on Sinn Féin offices in Stormont, beneath the smokescreen of an alleged republican spy ring within the NIO, provided just sufficient political cover for rejectionist unionism to walk away from the Agreement without taking the blame.





But as Martin McGuinness has pointed out, "however long it takes, unionists are coming back to the Agreement, an inclusive agreement with Sinn Féin in government in Stormont and within the North-South institutions.

"Whether they like it or not, the rejectionist unionists are going to have to accept the fact that the Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town," said Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness on Wednesday.

The party's chief negotiator was responding to a call by the Ulster Unionist Party leader and First Minister David Trimble for a motion to exclude Sinn Fein from the power-sharing Executive. The UUP wants the motion to be tabled in Stormont by the British government next week and has threatened to collapse the institutions by resigning if their demands are not met.

On Wednesday afternoon, the SDLP's Mark Durkan said such an expulsion was unacceptable to his party in the absence of a proven case.

"It is important that people, particularly people in positions of political leadership, recognise that we should not be surrendering ground to either the unionist rejectionists or loyalist paramilitaries, who are killing each other and trying to kill Catholics," said McGuinness.

"Politics has to be made to work and it is the job of political leaders to keep the institutions up and running and dealing with any problems. There have been many problems for republicans during this process, but we have not walked away.

"If unionists walk out of the people's institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement they would be sending a very negative message to those malign forces out there who wish to destroy the process.

"This is an imperfect process," said McGuinness. "But if you consider where we are now compared to where we were ten years ago, this is a far better place.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that if we continue to work at it in a genuine, positive and constructive way, where we will be in ten years' time will be a far better place than where we are now.

"Unfortunately, as a result of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting, they have sent a very powerful message to me as an elected representative of the largest nationalist party in the North and that is that they don't want the political institutions to work and they want to withdraw from the institutions."

 

Very British coup


BY LAURA FRIEL


    
The timing of the raids and arrests suggests that it had less to do with uncovering 'a republican spying operation at the heart of the NIO' and more to do with the 'save Dave' process
It was mid-morning on Friday and the telephone was ringing. "Switch on the television," said a familiar voice. "They're raiding Sinn Féin's offices in Stormont."

And then the images.

Lines of armoured vehicles, carrying up to a hundred armed PSNI offices, pulling up to the side of the grand entrance. Around 40 to 50 armed riot squad officers, dressed in black flame resistant overalls, streaming through the doorway and up a marble flight of stairs.

A shocked Bairbre de Brún and an angry Gerry Kelly. And then, at Kelly's invitation, a media scrum as journalists fought their way through the narrow front entrance. Film footage of dozens of PSNI officers, many covering their faces as they scurried past the cameras, beating a hasty retreat.

One officer was carrying a couple of plastic envelops, later revealed as containing a Windows 95 software programme and a recovery disk seized from Sinn Fein's office. Within days, the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde would be forced to apologise for the manner of the raid and return what was seized.

Proof, as Martin McGuinness would point out, that the computer disks were as innocent as Sinn Féin. But on Friday, it was all visual impact followed by high drama and political fallout, literally and metaphorically.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams swiftly condemned the Stormont raid as "political theatre". The scene had been set during the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party's ruling council over a fortnight ago, he said. Now we were watching the pantomime.

    
With the Ulster Unionist Party now openly endorsing an anti-Agreement agenda, nationalists inadvertently became the only defenders of the Good Friday Agreement. Unionists exposed. Emerging nationalist unity. Even the possibility of such a configuration was just too much for the British
Like the boy who cried wolf, David Trimble and the UUP had threatened the power sharing arrangements so often, nine times in four years, that most commentators had been lulled into a false sense of security when the UUP leader survived the latest challenge by the anti-Agreement wing of his own party.

But after years of failing leadership and a reluctance to present the Good Friday Agreement for what it was, the best deal unionists can hope to achieve given the changing political and demographic landscape, Trimble had finally capitulated to the unionist No camp. Trimble was no longer leading the UUP; he was merely running to keep up at the front.

The proposals, universally endorsed by the Ulster Unionist Council, weren't just against republicans; they were against the Good Friday Agreement. If Trimble emerged 'triumphant' from the council meeting, it was not by overcoming the naysayers' challenge, but by endorsing it.

And as Brian Feeney, writing in the Irish News pointed out, the significance was more than "a ploy to fend off the DUP in the assembly elections" and then back to business as usual. UUP members were set to oppose any attempt by Trimble "to find a way back into a power sharing executive", said Feeney.

"What clinches this conclusion is that in the process of nominating UUP candidates for the Assembly, supporters of the Agreement have retired or been tossed overboard. Quite simply, the complexion of the UUP next year will be such that no executive can be elected."

The UUP had adopted "a wrecker's charter" and it was widely perceived as such. Trimble's display of moral indignation at being required to work with republicans was no more than a fig leaf to cover a sectarian agenda that harked back to the Orange state and the old Stormont regime. And for once the media knew it.

The IRA, wrote Pat McArt in the Newsletter, "is being scapegoated in a totally cynical way in order to allow unionists to exit from an agreement that unionists cannot stomach because it is delivering equality". Given the ensuing events McArt's comment proved prophetic.

But this was only part of the story. In recent weeks, a new ideological configuration was emerging which did nothing to enhance David Trimble's image as Nobel Peace Prize winner, let alone the position of the British government, his main sponsor.

For months, David Trimble and the UUP had claimed that ongoing violence on the streets was undermining their participation in the power sharing arrangements. Trimble, with a lawyer's training, was careful not to specify exactly where this violence was emanating, leaving the context simply to imply republican violence.

But sooner or later, the truth had to come out. An ongoing loyalist campaign of sectarian violence against vulnerable Catholic communities, which involved hundreds, perhaps thousands of pipe and petrol bombings and gun attacks against Catholic homes and property, as well as a series of sectarian killings, could not be ignored forever.

Even the PSNI abandoned trying to shore up Trimble's position by pretending loyalists and republicans were fighting it out on the streets. The PSNI admitted that the overwhelming majority of violence was being perpetuated by the UDA and UVF.

Furthermore, a report, yet to be published, by the Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, recognises that in so much as republicans had a presence on the streets, they were using their best offices to avoid conflict and defuse confrontation.

Journalists began to develop the idea that loyalist violence could be seen as the cutting edge of anti-Agreement unionism. "The UDA did all it could to assist mainstream unionism this summer," wrote Susan McKay of the Tribune, attacking Catholic neighbourhoods, "in an effort to provoke the IRA. Frustratingly, Alex Maskey just kept laying wreaths".

It was becoming increasingly apparent that unionists' anti-Agreement stance was less to do with a moral dilemma of working with republicans and more to do with a sectarian rejection of power sharing with nationalists.

Furthermore, with the Ulster Unionist Party now openly endorsing an anti-Agreement agenda, effectively creating a rejectionist unionist power block with the DUP, nationalists inadvertently became the only defenders of the Good Friday Agreement. Unionists exposed. Emerging nationalist unity. Even the possibility of such a configuration was just too much for the British.

Like the BBC play of the same name, what was to follow was a very British coup. The 1980s' television political drama suggested that subterfuge and sabotage underpinned the workings of the British state. Behind the smokescreen of perceived scandal, the parliamentary system could be manipulated and the balance of power shifted.

But that was just fiction and these are the facts.

A porter, William Mackessy, had worked briefly for the NIO and left his job over six months ago. A year ago, he had allegedly been caught photocopying, possibly with the intension to leak information. Following the incident, Mackessy had been disciplined and transferred to another department.

It had been treated as a relative minor misdemeanour. After all, as Martin McGuinness pointed out, Ian Paisley has received more leaked government documents than he has had hot dinners.

Last Friday, Mackessy was arrested by the PSNI and his home raided. Four days later he was charged in connection with possession of information likely to be useful to terrorists. In court, the PSNI admitted that no incriminating documentation had been found at this person's home or work or in his possession.

The PSNI 'believe' they can link the defendant by way of handwriting 'analysis'. It's a slim, and very subjective criteria by which to attempt to justify bringing down an elected power sharing government.

According to the PSNI, amongst papers seized during a raid on the home of Sinn Féin administrator Denis Donaldson were documents leaked from the NIO.

In the past, there have been numerous press conferences during which members of the DUP have produced documents leaked to their party by the NIO civil service. No one has ever been raided or arrested in connection with this.

"Suppose the Fine Gael party had some sort of leaked government documents and there was a Garda raid on Fine Gael headquarters," a Dublin Senator commented, "and tons of documents were taken away. There would be a huge furore."

Two other people have been arrested. Fiona Farrelly was charged with possession of information on Sunday night, while Ciaran Kearney, the son of veteran human rights campaigner Oliver Kearney, remains in continued detention.

John Reid has admitted that he had been made aware of 'the situation' in July. The timing of the raids and arrests suggests that it had less to do with uncovering 'a republican spying operation at the heart of the NIO' and more to do with the 'save Dave' process.

"With John Reid claiming that the security forces have been aware of the 'leaking problem' since the middle of last year," commented a Newsletter columnist, "why the big full scale public raid on Sinn Féin offices now?"

Once Sinn Féin's offices had been raided, said Gerry Kelly, charges were inevitably going to be brought. But to raid the offices of an opposition party within a parliamentary building under any circumstances is a serious business.

As the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's former adviser on the north of Ireland, Martin Mansergh commented: "It is the kind of thing associated more with semi-democratic, (by which he meant undemocratic) countries like Turkey and (regimes like) Robert Mugabe.

"It is an extraordinary thing in any democracy for the parliamentary offices of a political party to be heavily raided by a police force," said Mansergh. "This is a very, very serious development which has yet to be fully justified."

But while nationalist Ireland, including the Dublin government, was angry, Irish America was livid. "The raid on the Stormont Sinn Féin office," wrote US correspondent Roy O'Hanlon in the Irish News, "has gone down like a lead balloon."

A few days earlier, a group of Members of Congress had written to the British secretary of State complaining about the PSNI's failure to protest Catholics in the Short Strand. Now the PSNI appeared to be openly pursuing a unionist anti-Agreement agenda within the offices of government.

In the US, the Ancient Order of Hibernians were furious and called for the immediate release of Denis Donaldson. The AOH demanded an investigation of the "political tactics of those acting for the British government during the raids on the offices of Sinn Féin" which was "an assault against democratic principles".

There was no place in a democratic society for "staged police raids on the offices of an oppositional political party", said the AOH national secretary.

But in the British and Unionist press there were plenty to endorse the British agenda. "To Trimble the spoils," Malachi O'Doherty wrote in the Belfast Telegraph. "From looking near suicidal two weeks ago David Trimble now looks like an astute politician, almost a prophet."

A miraculous transformation no less, but O'Doherty shows no interest in how this apparent transformation was achieved.

The editorial continued: "Unionist patience has been stretched to breaking point and the ultimatum issued by the Ulster Unionist Council last month appears to have been vindicated."

While the Belfast Telegraph finds words such as 'wise', 'astute' and 'vindicated' to describe Trimble, Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times is considering the "nightmare scenario for Sinn Féin", which is "a breakdown of the peace process for which republicans and not unionists will carry the bulk of historical blame". Clarke predicts that in any future negotiations, "Sinn Féin will find its hand seriously weakened.

"It is they and not unionists who will have to make concessions and build the confidence," Clarke concludes.

But is anyone really fooled?

Pat McArt, writing in the Newsletter, suggested republicans have already made significant confidence building concessions. "But this is not enough progress for rejectionist unionism and many suspect that anything the republican movement does will never be enough."

Commenting on the raids and arrests, McArt outlines the way in which nationalist Ireland is interpreting events.

"For many - if not all - nationalists the whole thing smacks of a charade. Nationalists have seen the UUP walk to Stormont flanked by representatives of loyalist paramilitary groupings who have carried out horrific sectarian murders mostly against unarmed, totally innocent Catholics. There was no outcry from unionism about democracy being corrupted then.

"And for several months every year nationalists can expect heavy duty intimidation, particularly in places such as Portadown, Larne, Ballymena and large swathes of Belfast when tribal unionism celebrates its culture. So when Trimble, Donaldson et al rant on about republicans breaking the rules, it tends to ring hollow.

"And as for the leaked documents, the Brits have done - and will do - the same. Neither side can claim to have played by Marquis of Queensberry rules."

 

'Stinging' the peace process


BY JIM GIBNEY


 
PSNI officers raid a House in Andersonstown
Last Friday night, in a deadly escalation of the feud among loyalists, a man was shot dead. Last Saturday night, loyalists shot and seriously injured another loyalist, whose child was with him in his car at the time. Last Sunday night, loyalists fired a burst from a machine gun at a PSNI patrol. Last Monday night, loyalists tried to kill another two men, one of whom they shot in the head. All these incidents happened in Belfast.

In the same feud the weekend before these shootings, two loyalists were shot and wounded. The week before that, a leading loyalist was arrested in possession of a firearm. Three weeks ago, two UVF men were sentenced to ten years in gaol in Scotland when they pleaded guilty to trying to import explosives into the six counties, enough to make 20 car bombs.

It is accepted in all political circles that the UDA/UFF ceasefire does not exist. The UDA remains an illegal organisation. Yet it is not uncommon for the media to interview UDA figures and no one bats an eyelid or complains about the airwaves being corrupted by 'unreformed and unreconstructed' terrorists. That sort of language is used only for republicans. It is also accepted in all political and policing circles that the UDA is running a huge drug operation, worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Does any of this catalogue of violence tax the British government? No. Does any of it bring howls of condemnation from any of the unionist parties? No. Is there a motion put by unionists on the floor of the Assembly calling for the expulsion of Assembly members Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine because of UVF activity? No.

Will the DUP ministers resign their seats in protest at the ongoing loyalist violence? No. Will the DUP demand that the crown forces take action against the UDA? No.

Is David Trimble jumping up and down demanding action from the crown forces to deal with the loyalists? No. Is he threatening to bring down the institutions because loyalists are killing each other, trying to kill Catholics and have refused to make similar moves to the IRA with their arms? No.

Do the crown forces continue to occupy the hills along the border? Yes. Have they and do they still plant listening devices in the homes of leading republicans like Gerry Kelly? Yes. Is British intelligence tapping the phones of senior republicans? Yes. Are the crown forces clandestinely following republicans every hour of the day? Yes. Is this activity at odds with the peace process? Yes.

Did British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam authorise the bugging of a car used by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness when she was engaged in daily talks with them? Yes. Did she apologise when she was found out? No. Was her action a threat to the peace process? Yes.

    
The new Chief Constable of the PSNI, Hugh Orde, authorised the Stormont raid. He knew there was nothing to be found in offices that are permanently unlocked and accessible at any time day or night. He knew the political cover such a raid would give to David Trimble
Did Gerry Adams stop talking to her or any other British official? No. Why? Because republicans realise the peace process is too important to be deflected by bugging incidents or activities which find their source in a process that is aimed at moving people, who were in mortal combat with each other for nearly 30 years, into a new and peaceful situation.

For some time now, those forces inside the political and military establishment in the Six Counties and in London, who cannot live with the fact that they failed to defeat the IRA and that republicans are stronger today than they were ten years ago, have been engaged in a series of activities aimed at slowing down political change on the one hand and trying to provoke the IRA on the other.

They are blocking the full implementation of the Patten proposals on policing because they want to retain military control over the future of policing and the best way to do that is to keep republicans out of the ranks of a new police service and off the Policing Board.

They are blocking the demilitarisation of South Armagh and Fermanagh for selfish military reasons and to cause maximum difficulties for the leadership of Sinn Féin.

Their hand is to be found in the sectarian violence of the UDA/UFF; their hand is to be found in some of the activities of dissident republicans. This activity fits into their desire to maintain a militarised society in the Six Counties.

Last week, Patten's recommendation that the RUC Reserve, some 3,000 men and women, be stood down was rejected. They will remain for at least another three years. The argument for their retention was the threat posed to society by violent elements. The most violent people are the loyalists and everyone knows they are directed by the PSNI Special Branch and Military Intelligence.

They were involved in the sting operation that led to a number of republicans appearing in court on document charges and the raid on Sinn Féin's office at Stormont.

The sting operation was over a year in preparation. British Secretary of State John Reid publicly admitted he knew about 'something going on' last July. What was going on?

Does Tony Blair know what his intelligence agencies were at over the last year? Is he going to try to find out?

The timing of the arrests was perfect for David Trimble. Last week, he was being blamed for bringing down the institutions; this week, republicans are being blamed.

However, it was the high media profile of the raid on the Sinn Féin offices that gave David Trimble the excuse he desperately needed to collapse the institutions on his terms.

The new Chief Constable of the PSNI, Hugh Orde, authorised that raid. He knew there was nothing to be found in those offices. He knew they are permanently unlocked and accessible at any time day or night. He knew the political cover such a raid would give to David Trimble.

He knew the sensational nature of the raid. The media were tipped off in advance by the PSNI to have cameras there to record the dozens of jeeps and the hundreds of PSNI personnel descending on Sinn Féin's offices. The pictures were flashed around the world.

He approved of the raid on Sinn Féin's offices because he and others wanted to stitch the party up, to blame Sinn Féin when in fact they are blameless.

Hugh Orde was forced by embarrassment to issue a lame apology for the nature of the raid, not the raid itself. His apology will not hide the fact that he participated in an exercise cooked in the ovens of the securocrats and dished out by the PSNI aimed at helping anti-Agreement unionists.

Whatever happens over the next few days, the one thing we can all be certain of is that republicans will not be distracted or demoralised. We are disappointed at the turn of events but we are committed to the peace process and to ensuring that the progress that has been made in recent years is carried forward.

 

Sinn Féin tables Dáil motion on crisis

 

"Anti-Agreement wreckers must not succeed" - Ó Caoláin




Sinn Féin TDs have tabled a Dáil motion on the current crisis in the peace process. They are seeking a special debate this week as the political institutions established under the Agreement face collapse. The party's Dáil leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, said:

"The events of the past few days are the working out of the Wreckers' Charter adopted by the Ulster Unionist Council on 21 September. Anti-Agreement unionists are now clearly in the ascendant and the raid on the office of our party colleagues in Stormont was part of the effort to blame Sinn Féin for the collapse of the political institutions.

"The real agenda is not in the spins coming from the RUC/PSNI and widely carried in the media. The real agenda is set out in the UUC motion of 21 September that focuses on rolling back the political changes since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The UUC are opposed to Sinn Féin in government - so are the securocrats in the RUC/PSNI. The UUC are opposed to the establishment of a real policing service - so are the securocrats.

"We are calling for a special Dáil debate and have put down a motion opposing the suspension of the political institutions. I have written to the Taoiseach directly seeking such a debate."

The motion reads:

"That the Dáil reiterates its support for the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions established under it;

Urges all parties to fully support the Agreement and its institutions, based as they are on the principle of inclusivity and respect for all electoral mandates;

Would strongly oppose a suspension of the institutions by the British government;

Calls upon the Irish Government to defend and promote the Agreement and the agenda for real change, reconciliation and lasting peace in Ireland."


Sinn Féin TDs Seán Crowe, Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan and Aengus Ó Snodaigh will hand in a letter of protest to the British Embassy in Dublin at 10am this morning, following last Friday's politically motivated raid on the party's Stormont offices.
Speaking in Dublin beforehand, Martin Ferris said:

"These actions are clearly part of the anti-Agreement agenda set out by David Trimble and the UUP two weeks ago when they outlined their plans to bring down the political institutions and try and halt the process of change. The wrecking of the institutions is the common position of the DUP and the UUP.

"Sinn Féin is calling on all parties and the two governments to fully support the Agreement and its institutions, based as they are on the principle of inclusivity and respect for all electoral mandates."

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