McGuinness, MP for Mid-Ulster, was first elected in
1997 and re-elected last year. The election that gave
McGuinness his MP status was also a Labour victory,
and saw Mo Mowlam becoming Secretary of State for
Northern Ireland that same year. Mo Mowlam caused
a number of controversies with her flamboyant handling
of things, including, in 1999, the discovery of an
unwieldy bug underneath the car used by Gerry Adams
and Martin McGuinness as they were to'ed and fro'ed
during negotiations. When the bug was first discovered,
Blair's government remained "tight-lipped".
A Guardian report of the incident claimed,
"Mr Blair's spokesman said the security services
operate within the law under ministerial control.
He dismissed as "Guardian paranoia"
suggestions that an unauthorised operation might have
occurred as they did under previous Labour governments,"
noting that "any legitimate use of a listening
device needs ministerial approval from either the
Northern Ireland office or the home office."
Later, Mo Mowlam would admit that she had approved
that bugging of the car, saying it had been done to
has now emerged that at the same time, Martin McGuinness'
phone was also being tapped, as evidenced by the recent
release of transcripts from the phone taps in the
paperback edition of Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston's
biography of McGuinness, From Guns to Government.
Tapping the phones of MPs has been out of bounds for
37 years, since Harold Wilson established the rule
in 1966. Regardless of whether McGuinness took his
seat or not - it has only been since 2002 that Sinn
Fein MPs have begun to use their Westminster office
facilities - and regardless of his connections to
the Republican Movement, he was at the time of the
phone tapping an elected Member of Parliament. On
Wednesday last, Andrew MacKinlay, according to the
Daily Telegraph, "reminded us that Mr
Blair had once promised 'to make a statement to the
House, exceptionally, if and when any Member of Parliament's
phone was tapped. It is not a question of personality.
It is a question of principle. Members of Parliament's
telephones should not be tapped, and secondly, the
Prime Minister is in charge of the security and intelligence
services and they have been insubordinate in this
case and are not subject to the proper controlled
security of this place.'"
response: "I understand why you raise the issue.
I reconfirm the Wilson doctrine but I also say to
you I don't and will not comment on any matters related
to security." MacKinlay also said, "This
goes to the heart of our freedoms - the security services
appear to have trespassed over the Wilson rules."
it goes even further than that: with the arrests of
Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, the journalists
who published the rogue phone tap transcripts, the
security services are trespassing over more than just
the Wilson rules.
Wednesday evening last, the day MacKinlay questioned
the Prime Minister, the police arrived at Clarke and
Johnston's home, around 8:30pm. 3 men in navy boiler
suits and peaked caps from Technical Support Branch,
Castlereagh, plus CID from Castlereagh. All armed.
They seized around 21 bags of documents and 4 computers.
The search lasted around 5 and a half hours, culminating
in the arrests of Clarke and Johnston at 2 am. "We
were very, very lucky," Kathryn says, "because
a neighbour was able to mind our 8 year old daughter.
The police did not care that they were leaving her
without her mother or without care when they arrested
me." Both Liam and Kathryn feel the search and
arrest was heavy handed. "They did not need to
arrest us; we aren't flight risks. We could have been
questioned in the manner afforded David Lister and
Henry McDonald." Clarke, 49, had been questioned
before over his articles [regarding Martin Ingram].
Because of new Human Rights legislation, Johnston
was arrested only to be put in her cell for 9 hours
rest, and wasn't even interviewed until 2 or 3 in
the afternoon the following day. Kathryn, a 48 year
old mother of 3, describes her experience. "[It
was] Dreadful conditions. You're held in a cell, which
has a toilet in the middle of it, with continuous
video and audio monitoring. You are filmed on the
toilet if you use it; they say it's pixelated but
someone has to be watching to know when to pixelate
the picture. Images from video monitoring aren't pixelated
until they are processed by computer. When you are
changing, you are filmed. You have absolutely no privacy."
says she faced intensive questioning. "The amount
of information taken from our house was massive. The
search was supposed to be limited to documentation
relating to transcripts, but what they took went well
beyond the scope, it was obvious they were on a fishing
expedition. None of the documents I was questioned
about in the station had anything to do with what
was found the house, with the exception of one, which
was downloaded from the internet and related to Omagh
and was in public domain; it was a Garda report -
how could possession of material from another state
possibly be a breach of the Official Secrets Act?
It had been emailed from the Sunday Times Dublin
office after an article about it had appeared in the
paper." It was all questions about the [McGuinness]
book and sources, which they refused to answer. Both
Liam and Kathryn had 4 or 5 police interviews each.
pulls no punches in his description of what he calls
a "Heavy handed operation. We were arrested at
2 am and taken to Antrim interrogation centre. It
was a rap over the knuckle for disclosing the transcripts.
We were held 21 hours in the holding centre. A total
of 26 hours. It was very intimidating. We were told
we were to be allowed phone calls, but Chief Superintendent
Phil Wright denied me all phone calls. Kathy was allowed
them for welfare purposes, but warned that they were
monitored and if the case was discussed in any way,
they would "pull the plug"." He believes
it is part of a whole process of intimidation designed
to keep people quiet. He points out that whistleblowers
in the private sector who expose corruption are protected
by law, whereas people who work in the public sector
have no such protections, in fact, quite the opposite.
will throw [unlimited] money and resources at you,
and the idea is to make life such a misery - partly
for journalists but more for leakers - the message
for the civil services is it just is not worth speaking
out, because of the hassle, having your life turned
upside down. The intention is intimidatory. For
example, Martin Ingram [the subject of a previous
controversy] was arrested at his sister's home.
Her house was torn about. A phone in a house outside
of the UK that he used was phone tapped illegally
- it sends a message. Lt Col Nigel Wylde, who was
accused of being a source in Tony Geraghty's book,
The Irish War, his life was ripped apart for 3 years,
and he ended up100,000 in debt with legal fees.
He has since been found innocent. The idea is to
make corruption in government too expensive to write
Clarke continued, "the message is very clear.
If you talk, it can be discovered. These arrests are
meant to weaken confidence in journalists and make
people afraid to talk."
McDonald also believes that is the message being sent.
"Protection of sources is a fundamental tenet
of journalism. Otherwise no one would ever talk. I
have absolutely the same attitude towards a source
whether they be a republican, a loyalist, a civil
servant, a cop, whatever, it doesn't matter. Their
protection is paramount."
and Johnston included the transcripts as illustration
of the evolution of McGuinness from young IRA man
to an urbane man chummy with the British establishment.
It has proven to be illustrative of much more than
a personal profile, now that Clarke and Johnston have
been arrested, along with a man accused of being the
source who supplied them with the transcripts. Two
other journalists, David Lister of the Times,
and Henry McDonald, the Ireland Editor of the Observer,
have been questioned and are to be questioned under
caution. One has to question the wisdom of arresting
and questioning the Irish Editors of two of the most
respected newspapers in the UK on the heels of suspending
elections in Northern Ireland, which has the effect
of making what seemed hyperbolic comparisons to rogue
governments earlier in the week not being very far
off the mark.
McDonald, who is to be questioned on Wednesday, is
under no illusions that the arrests are anything but
"purely political," he says. "Gangs
of thugs are roaming the streets of Belfast beating
people up, stealing cars, you have armed thugs attacking
people...police time is wasted pursuing people like
me. An attempt is being made to shut down the culture
of people getting scoops and stories that may be detrimental
to the establishment. They're trying to change to
the entire culture. Journalism under the peace process
has become very supine."
Lister agrees. "They are trying to make an example
of the policeman who was arrested, and of Liam [and
Kathryn] as well. I do think there is a definite political
agenda to this. For a variety of reasons, it's timely
for the police and for Downing Street to be looking
to make an example of policemen and civil servants
who are too close to the media, or of journalists
who are doing their jobs."
number of strands run through the possible motivation
for the arrests and questioning of the journalists.
First and foremost is the power of Martin McGuinness.
"This is screaming to the high heavens for answers,"
he has been quoted as saying. He suggested, when he
compared the leak of the transcripts to information
passed to loyalist paramilitaries in order to set
republicans up for murder, that the publication of
the transcripts could endanger his life. Disgraceful,
he called the leaks. McGuinness has been against the
Clarke and Johnston book from the start, making clear
it was written, as many biographies that are not shrines
to the subject are, without his co-operation or approval.
Ó Donghaile wrote in his
review of the book for the Blanket, The
education minister's inability to distinguish between
biography and autobiography aside, his statement did
point to a much more disturbing feature of political
life under Stormont. In trying to stop this book from
being written McGuinness appealed to one of the unwritten
rules that make politics in the six counties so secretive
and so dangerous - he appealed to the old republican
policy of secrecy that he and his party have manipulated
and transformed into a semi-official political culture
that is designed to stop people from criticising "the
of the journalists involved agree that McGuinness
stands to benefit from their detentions. McDonald
says, the arrests are designed to plug all the
leaks and to placate McGuinness. He can now say, 'Look
what I can do,' at the upcoming Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.
also points to the Ard Fheis regarding Sinn Feins
position on the policing board. Its a
demonstration of power, a taste of what is possible
when they endorse and become the police. The message
to the IRA is, 'You dont need punishment squads,
[if we join the police] we can do it for you.' It
shows, despite the current problems with the suspension
of the election, that McGuinness still has power and
control within the British government. Because of
the arrest, the PSNI now has access to all the documents
seized at our home, thats how he can play it
when cajoling the grass roots - he had me arrested,
he had a Special Branch man arrested and charged.
This is no small thing.
the arrests benefit McGuinness, they also benefit
Tony Blair and the peace process. It is a way to show
Sinn Fein that something can happen if they want it
- a carrot at the same time the stick is being applied.
But theres also a downside to the benefits for
Downing Street, as MacKinlays questions - to
be discussed again this week - shows. If the
phone tap on McGuinness was authorized, it shows that
Tony Blair misled the House of Commons, Liam
Clarke notes. This is very serious. If it wasnt
authorized, then there hasnt been a breach of
the Official Secrets Act. Either way it can explain
why the heavy hand was applied. In other words,
someone is panicking somewhere. It wasnt to
be known that McGuinness phone was tapped, and
it wasnt to be known exactly how chummy McGuinness
is with the Brits.
for the arrests, Liam says, being unprecedented,
for example, they didnt turn up for Ed Moloney
over the Stobie case with 3 police cars and cart him
off for 23 hours, it makes you think, why the new
departure? And the following up they are doing, going
to the publisher [Mainstream Press, publisher of From
Guns to Government] - they are really lashing
out, really punishing people. Theyre saying,
we'll wallop you. Why? Its dangerously
last strand of motivation lay with Hugh Orde, and
his public promise to pursue all leaks in the wake
of the Castlereagh embarrassment. Ironically, it was
in an interview he did with Henry McDonald that his
promise not to police politically was made. In
an interview with The Observer to mark the
PSNI's first anniversary, Orde said no region and
no individual was out of bounds. 'I am different because
I am independent, the Secretary of State has never
tried to interfere and the day he does is the day
I will walk out the door. We will do policing; he
will deal with politics.'
David Lister says, Post Stevens report, the
police have to be whiter than white. They panic at
the slightest suggestion of a leak or rogue cop, and
they are trying to make an example of the cop involved
in this, and of the journalists, too. This is what
happens if you talk, this is the kind of heat you
what has come out in the Stevens report, it is absolutely
vital that those with knowledge of corruption
in the government feel confident in their ability
to speak out. The fact that the government is still
actively seeking to silence whistleblowers and the
journalists who have the courage to report uncomfortable
truths should have those concerned with freedom of
speech up in arms. These are indeed dangerous times,
and the possibilities of what lay ahead, given what
has gone before, are frightening.
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