last week, SDLP leader Mark Durkan and senior party
colleagues met the British attorney general, Lord
Peter Goldsmith, to ask serious questions concerning
the sudden collapse of the Stormontgate spy ring
the meeting, the delegation told a waiting media
posse that Lord Goldsmith had been emphatic that
lack of evidence was not the reason that charges
against Denis Donaldson and his two co-accused had
all the difference it made, Durkan and his colleagues
might just as well have passed by without saying
the fact that the British attorney general's assertion
contradicted everything that Sinn Féin was
claiming at the time, it barely got a mention on
Northern Ireland television and radio news bulletins.
Apart from a few notable exceptions in the print
media, most commentators continued to treat seriously,
and give virtual blanket coverage to, the republican
contention that the dropping of the Stormontgate
charges proved beyond any doubt that no spy ring
had ever existed. This despite the fact that, even
before Goldsmith's intervention, the Sinn Féin
claim had already stretched credibility beyond breaking
order for it to be true, a British prime minister,
at least a couple of Northern Ireland secretaries
of state, a PSNI chief constable, a police ombudsman,
a British attorney general, a regional prosecution
service and God knows how many associated departmental
underlings must all, either through naivety or deliberate
intent, have helped to cover the tracks of a group
of unidentified British "securocrats"
who had maliciously brought down the Stormont executive.
a few days of the SDLP claim, and after a reported
36 hours of being "interviewed" by his
erstwhile party colleagues, Donaldson publicly confessed
to having been a British agent for some 20 years.
Féin quickly changed tack and, again without
much serious questioning, the critical mass of the
media sailed in behind.
republican story now is that Donaldson, at the behest
of his British masters but without the knowledge
of his party colleagues, did indeed steal sensitive
documents - but only so that faceless British securocrats
could ensure that Sinn Féin took the blame
for bringing down the assembly.
slight variation on the initial republican claim
still depends for veracity on the active and illegal
participation, or barely credible gullibility, of
a large number of people.
that point, with an eye to the future and no doubt
cautious of destroying a carefully-cultivated relationship,
Sinn Féin has been at pains to make clear
that they consider Tony Blair to be among the innocently
gullible as opposed to having wilfully colluded
with his own security services in the destruction
of a democratically-elected institution.
media do not seem interested in giving any real
consideration to the full implications of what republicans
are alleging. Central to their claim is the charge
that many people at the very highest echelons of
the United Kingdom's legal, political and policing
professions were so driven by a thirst for revenge
on Sinn Féin that they were willing to set
aside all personal integrity to pursue or conceal
an illegal course of action which included the destruction
of a democratically-mandated assembly.
that they were prepared to risk reputations, careers
and, undoubtedly in some cases, long prison sentences,
despite the involvement of so many people in this
vast conspiracy, virtually guaranteeing that it
would eventually be uncovered. And, finally, that
numerous others who had no malicious intent were
easily duped into helping these conspirators.
of anything even approaching serious analysis, large
sections of the media continue to present this latest
republican fiction as something worthy of serious
Donaldson's career as a British agent is now over,
he at least continues to be of some use to republicans.
media are now faithfully reporting Sinn Féin
claims that, as part of the ongoing campaign to
smear republicans, he (and, of course, his securocrat
handlers) concocted the break-in at the Belfast
headquarters of the PSNI at Castlereagh in 2002,
when hundreds of special branch files were stolen.
next from Sinn Féin? That Donaldson orchestrated
the Northern Bank robbery, set up the "Colombia
Three" and stage-managed the murder of Robert
McCartney? Many journalists seem to ignore the fact
that Sinn Féin have already shown that they
are not above abusing the democratic process to
collect information and spy on those they consider
to be their enemies. In 2002, Dublin Sinn Féin
member Niall Bennett was found to be in possession
of notes detailing the names, addresses and movements
of many politicians in the Republic.
with the help of such a compliant media, republicans
might yet be able to shift the blame for that spy
ring on to Denis Donaldson and his British paymasters
with permission from the author.