Irish Times, 11 January 2006
Vincent Browne, one of Ireland's best known print and broadcast journalists, writes for the Irish Times about
"Stormontgate" and the refusal of Bertie Ahern to back a call for an investigation:
Analysis: The dog ate my homework
"Meanwhile, we have nothing to say about what the facts scream out: almost certainly the PSNI
Special Branch and British intelligence forces subverted a constitutional settlement of the Irish problem."
Bertie Ahern, in a radio interview on Sunday, backed off a demand
for an investigation into what is known as "Stormontgate", writes
What is now important, he said, is that we move on from here and
try to get the Good Friday institutions up and running again. It
seems he too has been bamboozled by the spin "security sources"
in Northern Ireland have put on the story.
Just remember the bare facts of this case. On October 4th, 2002,
members of the PSNI Special Branch "raided" the Sinn Fein offices
at Stormont, in the glare of television cameras. It transpired
this was merely a photo opportunity for there was no "raid"; they
went into only a few of the 24 offices occupied by Sinn Fein at
Stormont, made no attempt to search anywhere and took away two
computer disks, one with an electoral register on it and the
other a Windows back-up disk, both of which they later returned.
These Special Branch officers then went down the road to the home
of one of their own agents and there "found" more than 1,000
documents which "proved" Sinn Fein was engaged in a spying
operation. The consequence of this disclosure was the breakdown
of the constitutional arrangement that had been voted into effect
by more than 80 per cent of the Irish people.
And we are now invited to believe by "security sources" that the
discovery of these 1,000 documents in the home of one of their
own agents was merely coincidental, that this agent had not told
them either of this spying operation or his own part in it, that
they had never asked him about it before raiding his home. We are
further asked to believe that the prosecution of their own spy
for spying was always intended to go the full course: to trial,
conviction and sentence, without it ever emerging that the Sinn
Fein member was actually a Special Branch spy.
And, as an array of usual media suspects would have it, we are
invited to regard this as a major crisis for Sinn Fein, not a
major crisis for the security forces. Amazing! Sometimes what
seems obvious is obvious. Sometimes it is prudent to believe
one's own eyes and ears.
Of course it is possible that Denis Donaldson was a double agent
and that, while pretending to spy for the British, in fact he was
spying against them. But if that was true, would he not now say
that and save his reputation among his own community, among his
own family and among his own friends?
It is also vaguely possible that he was compromised on this one
venture, that he had to go along with the spying venture for Sinn
Fein, without telling his Special Branch handlers over several
months, and that he got caught.
But, come on, think of the extraordinary coincidence: the only
place where the PSNI Special Branch found anything linking Sinn
Fein with spying was in the house of their own agent. What are
the chances of that being for real? Of course, I think it
plausible Sinn Fein would have been engaged in spying. Weren't
they and/or their sister organisation, the IRA, into it for
years? Weren't they spying to enable them to murder people for
decades? Weren't members of Sinn Fein caught spying on
politicians in the South? But that is not the point.
We are now being asked to believe that "proof" of Sinn Fein
spying is the discovery of documents in the home of a Special
Branch agent and nowhere else. And we are further asked to
believe that the consequent collapse of the constitutional
arrangement was the fault of Sinn Fein, not of the security
agents who may have staged this affair. Brian Rowan, former
security editor of the BBC, writing in this newspaper last
Saturday, conveyed an ingenious version of what had happened in
relation to all this, according to "security sources". We are
told: "There was another informer - a covert human intelligence
source (CHIS) - and the IRA's intelligence-gathering operation
inside the Northern Ireland Office was compromised long before
the documents were moved to Donaldson's house. For weeks, indeed
months, before then, the PSNI Special Branch and the British
security service, MI5, had known precisely where the Stormontgate
documents were being kept."
And we are asked to believe that the Special Branch held back for
months on raiding this house because of a "bigger plan"; they
thought they might be able to capture the IRA director of
intelligence red-handed. Then, unfortunately, the documents were
moved to the house of their own agent and they had no option but
to raid that house. Why could they not wait until the documents
were moved on to somewhere else, before compromising their own
agent? No explanation.
The dog ate my homework.
The refusal to face up to the obvious facts is wilful. Wilful on
Bertie Ahern's part and on the part of the media. As though any
interpretation of the bare facts that might let Sinn Fein off the
hook cannot be entertained. Meanwhile, we have nothing to say
about what the facts scream out: almost certainly the PSNI
Special Branch and British intelligence forces subverted a
constitutional settlement of the Irish problem.