25 November 1999 Edition
South Armagh demands independent inquiry
By Laura Friel
South Armagh residents are urgently seeking a meeting with the Dublin and London governments after being told that their personal details were amongst British Military Intelligence documentation uncovered at Stoneyford Orange Hall, County Antrim.
Residents will be pressing for the full disclosure of the documentation discovered in the hands of loyalists and will call on the two governments to support their call for an independent public inquiry into this latest collusion controversy.
Over 100 people, all of whom had been informed by the RUC that their lives were in danger, attended a meeting in Crossmaglen last week. A panel of lawyers and a member of the Committee for the Administration of Justice joined Assembly members Conor Murphy and Alex Maskey to address the meeting.
``Many people were surprised and shocked to learn that their personal details had been passed into the hands of loyalists,'' said Joanne Caragher. The list of people whose lives have been put at risk ranges from teenagers to an 80-year-old widow.
``When people were told about the files,'' says Joanne, ``the RUC simply read a pre-prepared short statement.'' The refusal to disclose the exact details to each individual is further heightening anxiety. ``People have the right to know,'' says Joanne. ``Full disclosure of the details would allow them to properly assess the threat under which they are now living.''''
At the meeting, a small working committee was formed to collate all the information and co ordinate future action. ``All residents under threat, who have not already done so, were advised to contact their solicitors,'' said Joanne. Solicitors can pursue full disclosure of information contained in each individual's file.
The way in which local people had been ``snubbed'' by the RUC on the grounds of ``confidentiality'', said Joanne, stands in sharp contrast to the confidential material which had recently been made available to Daily Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden, writing about South Armagh republicans. ``The RUC are able to disclose information when it suits them,'' says Joanne.
In his book ``Bandit Country: the IRA and South Armagh, Harnden quotes from sources which include RUC Special Branch collators' indexes of suspects, written reports of RUC investigations into incidents, comments by RUC officers and Special Branch officers and a transcript of an RUC confidential phone call.
It also includes information from informers' statements to British military intelligence at Bessbrook Mill, an informer's statement to a UDR handler, reports of British Army Intelligence Commanders and even publishes montage photographs of ``IRA suspects'' and RUC photographs of an ``IRA unit''.
Commenting on Harnden's book, Fr. Raymond Murray, author of ``The SAS in Ireland.'' said considering that many of the documents of the 1920 period are still under secret wraps, he was astounded by the present action of the police and army in providing Toby Harnden with secret documents. Murray pointed out that the lawyers of many of the victims of state violence have not had such access to security material.
Meanwhile, RUC Special Branch sources told one Sunday newspaper that two loyalist politicians have been linked to the Stoneyford conspiracy. According to the source, one of two is ``high profile'' and both are members of the Orange Order. Loyalist meetings at Stoneyford Orange Hall were secretly bugged and filmed by RUC Special Branch, it has been claimed.
``Deep concern'' over Stoneyford files
Dáil challenge to Taoiseach and Justice Minister
The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern expressed ``deep concern'' over the recent discovery of over 300 files on nationalists in Stoneyford Orange Hall in County Antrim. He was responding to a question in the Dáil on Tuesday from Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he had raised the issue with the British Prime Minister:
``Does the Taoiseach not agree that this is yet another damning indictment of collusion between the British forces and loyalists paramilitaries? What guarantee can be given now, that information passed from the Garda Síochána to the RUC will not end up in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries in the same way? Will the Taoiseach now require the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to end the flow of such information?''
Ahern said that there was deep concern on the part of the government but information exchange between the Gardaí and RUC would continue. ``We would always emphasise that any information which has to be passed on should remain of a confidential nature'' he said.
Ó Caoláin again raised the need for demilitarisation in South Armagh and the failure of Foreign Minister David Andrews to fulfil his promise to visit the area:
``Is it not hugely unhelpful, at a time such as this, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has indicated in a reply to me recently, which I have already referred to in the House, that he has no intention of visiting South Armagh at the invitation of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee as he promised to do over a year ago in my presence?''
Bertie Ahern's reply highlighted the fact that the Irish government is still waiting for the British to publish their long overdue `paper' on demilitarisation and went on:
``Much of the military infrastructure there could have been moved already, and we have continually emphasised that point. From my information and information from security journalists who have pointed to statistics over the years, these tower blocks, in addition to causing great difficulty for local communities, have not achieved much in terms of stopping terrorists and military operations on innocent people.''
Pressed on the question of Minister Andrews reneging on his commitment, Ahern claimed he was ``not aware of the circumstances''.
Also on Tuesday, the Sinn Féin TD questioned Justice Minister John O'Donoghue on the current review of the Offences Against the State Act (as highlighted in An Phoblacht last week). Ó Caoláin urged that the review be widespread and that public hearings be held around the state.