Sinn Fein Aide Charged in IRA Probe
Oct. 06, 2002
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:XBFT101-100502; AUDIO:%)
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A Sinn Fein party aide was arraigned Sunday on charges of possessing stolen British government documents _ a bombshell that politicians said gravely threatened Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government.
Denis Donaldson, 52, the head of administration for the Irish Republican Army-linked party in the Northern Ireland legislature, pleaded not guilty as prosecutors accused him of possessing documents ``likely to be of use to terrorists.''
Detective Inspector Paul McClatchey testified that when officers raided Donaldson's home Friday, they found a document-filled bag containing the home addresses and other details of potential targets for IRA assassination, including the lieutenant general who commands British army forces in Northern Ireland, a police officer, and anti-Catholic extremists.
More than 200 Sinn Fein supporters protested outside Belfast Magistrates Court as the judge, Mark Hamill, ordered Donaldson held without bail for a week.
``I am sure that in the fullness of time, when all the dust settles down, Denis Donaldson will walk free,'' said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who attended the hearing.
Another person arrested in the raids was charged Sunday night with possessing information likely to be of use to terrorists. Fiona Farrelly, 46, was ordered held without bail after prosecutors said police had seized a laptop and documents listing the home addresses of prison officers, another past IRA target.
Two others arrested Friday _ including a former British civil servant suspected of passing documents to Donaldson until quitting his job in September 2001 _ were still being interrogated.
Meanwhile Sunday, police said Protestant extremists opened fire as police responded to a riot in north Belfast. The bullets hit three armored vehicles and no one was injured. Three men were arrested.
Britain's Cabinet minister for Northern Ireland, John Reid, said the struggle to keep the province's nearly 3-year-old administration alive had reached ``a critical stage.''
Referring to a list of alleged attacks and other activities by the IRA in the past year, Reid said, ``Somehow we have to have an assurance that, if these things have happened in the past, they will happen no longer.''
But Martin McGuinness, the former IRA chief who serves as education minister in the power-sharing administration, accused Britain of ``breathtaking hypocrisy.''
McGuinness said that for many years, British intelligence agents have been bugging Sinn Fein's homes and cars. He said British civil servants haven't been punished in the past for leaking confidential documents to the two major Protestant parties, the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists.
While rejecting the accusations against Donaldson, a paroled IRA prisoner who worked with all 18 Sinn Fein lawmakers in Northern Ireland's 108-seat legislature, McGuinness said Britain was ``guilty of serious double standards.''
The crisis comes at a time when the survival of Northern Ireland's four-party administration, the key achievement of the 1998 peace accord, was already in serious doubt.
First Minister David Trimble, the Protestant who leads both the administration and the Ulster Unionist Party, has battled for the past three years to outmaneuver Protestant critics who think it was a mistake ever to agree to share power with Sinn Fein.
At an Ulster Unionist meeting last month, Trimble was on the verge of losing a key policy vote _ and ultimately his leadership _ but survived by cutting a deal with his chief critic, Jeffrey Donaldson. The new Trimble-Donaldson policy committed the Ulster Unionists to withdraw from the administration, forcing its collapse, if the IRA didn't demonstrate it had ceased all activities by Jan. 18.
The IRA, although largely observing a 1997 cease-fire, remains active on several fronts within its militant Catholic power bases
The group, estimated to have about 500 members, metes out limb-shattering attacks on its criminal rivals and runs several rackets. Senior Ulster Unionists say the time has come for Britain to take a side: Either support moves to kick Sinn Fein out of its two posts in the 12-member administration, or watch an Ulster Unionist withdrawal bring the whole house down.