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17 February 2005 Edition

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Ahern evades question on Orde and Northern Bank

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin put to the Taoiseach Hugh Orde's statement in an Irish News interview last week that he had 'no idea' whether the Sinn Féin leadership knew in advance of the Northern Bank robbery. Despite the fact that Ahern himself made this claim, he evaded the question. We carry here the Dáil exchange.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I ask the Taoiseach to note my abhorrence and that of Sinn Féin of the brutal murder of Robert McCartney, and our absolute rejection of this terrible deed. I repeat the call of Gerry Adams for people to assist the family in any and every way they can in its quest for truth and justice in this case.

Is the Taoiseach aware that in an interview in the Irish News last Friday 11 February, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Huge Orde, was asked if the Sinn Féin leadership knew about the Northern Bank robbery and he replied that he had no idea?

How does the Taoiseach square that with his own claims? He has supposedly based his opinion heretofore on PSNI information. His view is that the Sinn Féin leadership was in some way involved or conspired with others to carry out the Northern Bank robbery... Is it not clear from all that has been said by the former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and now by Hugh Orde himself, that there is no basis to the charge, which is political and without any basis in fact? I appeal to the Taoiseach calmly to recognise and appreciate the importance of clarity on this specific issue.

Has the Taoiseach raised with the British Government the admission by a representative of MI5 at a British House of Commons Committee meeting that it had planted electronic listening devices at the Connolly House offices of Sinn Féin in Belfast?

There was some dismissal of the claims that we made. However, they have been vindicated, and I believe the Taoiseach was present when the apparatus was returned at the Leeds Castle engagement in which I also participated.

Does the Taoiseach recall that the institutions were brought down by the British Government regarding another so-called "spying" allegation which is, as yet, unproven? One of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement, the British Government, through its arm, MI5, has admitted it was directly involved in eavesdropping on another party to that Agreement and the ongoing discussions and negotiations, the party I represent. Has the Taoiseach raised the issue? Does he agree that its acknowledgement now is very damaging and that he should insist to the British Prime Minister that it must never be repeated?

The Taoiseach: I acknowledge what Deputy Ó Caoláin has said about the murder of Mr McCartney, reiterating what the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, has said. That is helpful. On Connolly House, I recall raising the issue on the day in September at Leeds Castle when the device was handed over by the Deputy and his colleagues. We raised the matter then and made it clear that the idea of using bugging devices anywhere was totally unhelpful. As the Deputy will recall, it was not admitted at the time, when the British professed to have no knowledge of it. I will have to check with the Secretariat to follow that up, but we conveyed our abhorrence at the use of such tactics by MI5 or MI6 on the day.

I read the interview with Hugh Orde last week. He is not a politician, and he made his professional assessment very clear when he met the British Prime Minister and me in the presence of the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, and some of my colleagues. Of course, the difficulty for me is that the only way that I can get intelligence — the reason that I refused to make it up earlier today — is when it is presented to me with a categoric assurance. Then one must either say nothing about it, which is what I did many times last year, or one must express it, which is what I did in this instance this year. That is the position, and I cannot change that unless either one or both individuals does so. The more I say about it, the worse I make it, so I will say no more.


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