AP 4-2023 top

19 December 2002 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Allegations fly as Lowry resigns


Apparent tensions between Special Branch and MI5 surfaced this week with unionist accusations that British Military Intelligence played a role in the recent resignation of Bill Lowry, the head of Special Branch in Belfast.

But in this shadowy world of manipulation and skulduggery it is difficult to unpick the truth from the lies. According to unionists, MI5 is attempting to cover up Sinn Fein's involvement in 'espionage' for fear of creating political instability.

Of course such an allegation has a lot to do with the current unionist agenda of recreating a unionist 'majority' by demonising Sinn Fein, as a prelude to excluding the largest nationalist party, and with them their electorate, from any future power-sharing executive.

According to Unionist rejectionist Jeffery Donaldson tension between Lowry and MI5 arose in connection with the raid on Sinn Fein's Stormont offices and other raids and arrests which have accompanied the hype of an alleged IRA 'spy ring'. Lowry allegedly defied his MI5 masters and ordered the operation to go ahead.

In Jeffery Donaldson's version Lowry was simply doing his job while MI5 was playing politics. But the timely nature of Lowry's intervention and the subsequent media briefings suggests a political agenda by Special Branch, and one curiously close to that of the Ulster Unionist Party.

It is possible that there may be from time to time rivalry between Special Branch and MI5, but the reality is that both agencies have worked hand in glove for decades. Indeed, following the Walker recommendations MI5 was given total control of Special Branch and, through Special Branch, total control over the RUC.

The 'primacy' of Special Branch has in some ways always been a fiction. But faced with political pressure to implement meaningful changes to policing, it is likely that the British state will attempt to maintain total control over the most covert aspects of its operation in the north of Ireland by shifting the operational primacy of Special Branch back to MI5.

According to Jeffery Donaldson, MI5 accused Lowry of leaking details to the press during a telephone call to PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde. On the evening of the call, Orde and McQuillan began disciplinary proceedings against Lowry. The matter was dropped when Lowry agreed to take early retirement.

Lowry later complained to the police Ombudsman. In his complaint he describes being 'so humiliated'. "I was escorted from headquarters by an assistant chief constable and a superintendent from Internal Investigations Branch to my office at Castlereagh where they supervised me as I went through my papers, removing from me journals and some address books," said Lowry.

Meanwhile Jeffery Donaldson has demanded a unionist veto on unity. Donaldson said that even if nationalists become the majority population in the north, they should not be allowed to vote for a united Ireland because the unionist minority would withhold consent.

But according to the Good Friday Agreement the British and Irish governments "recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regards to its status."

There is no ambiguity. "The Agreement says 50% plus 1," said Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, "and we‚ll hold the Brits to that".

Jeffery Donaldson's comments anticipate the publication of the recent census, witheld by the British government for almost a year, which will show the margin between unionists and nationalists narrowing to almost a 50/50 ratio. It is believed that there is now less than a 4 per cent differential between the two communties.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1