1 May 2003 Edition

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Crown Forces tapped McGuinness's phone

A 48-year-old man, said to be a former member of the RUC, is being questioned about the leaking to a journalist of transcripts of telephone conversations between Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinnness, while he was Minister for Education, and members of the British government.

The revelations are contained in the paperback version of a previously published and unauthorised book about the republican leader's life and come after an anonymous claim that the IRA still has "spies" within the NIO who are being allowed to "roam the corridors of power".

The book prints the transcripts of several leaked telephone calls alleged to have taken place between McGuinness and then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, British chief of staff Jonathan Powell, and Gerry Adams.

McGuinness says he "doesn't recognise the accuracy" of the transcripts, but added that the action illustrates that British Intelligence had continued to spy on republicans even while Sinn Féin was focused on the peace process.

"The fact that my phone was bugged, and that elements within the British military establishment were bugging my phone even when I was in government, is disgraceful," said McGuinness at a Sinn Féin press conference held on Wednesday 30 April.

"It is obvious this was taking place when people like Gerry Adams and myself and others within the Sinn Féin leadership were doing everything in our power to ensure the success of the peace process. I think it's all the more disgraceful that this was happening at a time when Bairbre de Brún and myself were involved in the very serious work of providing a proper health service and proper education service for the children of the North of Ireland.

"I don't think that its unreasonable to expect that someone in the positions that we were holding could have privacy around an essential telephone conversations that we were having to ensure the success of that peace process."

One of the transcripts is alleged to have been recorded on 16 July 1991 - just one day after a failed bid to form a power-sharing executive at Stormont.

The conversation took place between Martin McGuinness and Tony Blair's spokesman Jonathan Powell as the two discussed the state of negotiations. McGuinness warns Powell that the mood within republicanism is "very, very bad".

"I have to say that since the second of July there is a view within republicanism that the British government have taken a strategic lurch in the direction of old approaches," McGuinness tells Powell sternly. "I think that people are of a view that there was an attempt to shaft Sinn Féin and that what was going on was totally and absolutely ouside the terms of the Agreement."

And later in the exchange, as Powell and McGuinness discuss ongoing difficulties in the process, an obviously frustrated McGuinness says: "They (unionists) are not interested in the Ireland Ministerial Council and the like... All you have to do is listen to William Thompson last night on BBC2."

"Agh, he's an ass," says Powell.

"Well it doesn't matter," says McGuinness. "He may be an ass, but there are a lot of other asses around him... like Willie Ross..."

"Quite a lot" agrees Powell, laughing.

"...Jeffrey Donaldson, Roy Beggs, Clifford Forsyth, Rev Martin Smyth..."

"Please don't repeat all the names," says Powell.

Expressing Sinn Féin's concern at the leaked documents on Wednesday, McGuinness told the press conference that "these documents are clearly Special Branch documents from someone in the PSNI and from our perspective - and I think this is a widely held belief, not just from within the broad nationalist community but also much wider afield - it is obvious that this system has been spying on the nationalist community and the political representatives of the nationalist community for over 30 years.

"They've bugged our cars, they've bugged our homes, they've bugged our offices, and the information that has been obtained has been provided to British agents and through them to unionist death squads, who have killed hundreds of nationalists throughout the North."

And the Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator also revealed that "while John Reid was the British Secretery of State I remember on one occasion in his little drawing room at Hillsborough Castle, I asked him directly - 'Have you authorised the bugging of my phone?' And he told me directly, 'No'.

"I believe my phone is still being listened to. I believe that because there are people within British intelligence services who, in the course of some 25 years, have not been able to accept the implications of the peace process and the change that that peace process brings. After all, these are the people who controlled our lives for some 25 years - the securocrats at the NIO, supported by the British intelligence services - they controlled every aspect of our lives.

"There is very deep resentment within those intelligence services that republicans have - through the mandate that we've been given and the support of the people - found themselves at the heart of government. And they're opposed to that; they're in sympathy with rejectionist unionists.

"So the war is not over for the securocrats, and I believe that the publication of this material and the anonymous allegations that were made yesterday, is quite deliberate, quite malicious, and clearly designed to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process."

As we go to press, Downing Street has refused to comment on the matter.

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