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21 November 2002 Edition

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Donaldson denied bail

Former Beirut hostage speaks out for Sinn Féin accused


BY LAURA FRIEL


Judge Nicholson, sitting in the High Court in Belfast, refused bail to Sinn Féin Assembly administrator Denis Donaldson on Wednesday, citing "unchallengeable hearsay from Special Branch".

Donaldson was remanded in custody on charges in connection with the alleged Stormont 'spy ring'. Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew immediately criticised the refusal to grant bail.

The judge made his decision despite former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan's support of Denis Donaldson during the hearing in Belfast this week. In a written reference submitted to the court, Keenan described how Denis Donaldson had travelled to Lebanon and negotiated with a senior Shi'ite spiritual advisor to the Hezbollah group holding the former teacher hostage.

"For the whole period of my incarceration only two human beings put their lives at risk on my behalf," wrote Keenan. "One was Terry Waite and the other was Denis Donaldson."

A defence lawyer told the court that Donaldson had been one of a number of influential republicans involved in early talks with unionists in 1991, seven years before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. A reference from Father Gerry Reynolds of Clonard Monastry said he was in no doubt of the defendant's commitment to solving difficulties solely by political means.

Defence Barrister Seamus Treacy told the court that there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence to connect the defendant to "a single document". The court was told that Denis had taken responsibility for everything in his house to ensure other family members were not arrested but that he did not know the rucksack containing documents were in his house.

Treacy said it was extremely unlikely that the Crown could secure a successful prosecution based on the evidence currently available. He went on to point out that the evidence against Denis Donaldson was significantly weaker than that against two other defendants, both of whom had been granted bail.

Michelle Gildernew described the decision to keep her party colleague incarcerated as "politically motivated" and designed to "keep the anti -Agreement pot on the boil.

"Special Branch is not only a force within a force, it is also a law unto itself, unchallengeable and unaccountable even in court," she said.

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