A time-line.. and more on conspiracy theories

Alongside the well publicised statement of Denis Donaldson yesterday, there was one other statement we neglected that is worth noting, from the Northern Ireland Office – “We completely reject any allegation that the police operation in October 2002 was for any reason other than to prevent paramilitary intelligence gathering.” They also point out that “The fact remains a huge number of stolen documents were recovered by the police”. The Irish Times provides a time-line of events from the initial searches in October 2002, and refers to this report, on those police searches, by the Policing OmbudsmanThe time-line of events, from the Irish Times

2002/October 4th: Police raid Sinn F�in offices in Stormont and a number of other premises in Belfast after a year-long inquiry into an alleged republican spy-ring. Four people are arrested and hundreds of documents seized.

A top security source tells The Irish Times: “Police are very, very confident about the strength of their case.”

October 6th: SF’s chief administrator at Stormont, Denis Donaldson, is charged with holding confidential details about members of the police and British soldiers.

October 7th: UUP leader David Trimble claims the affair is 10 times worse than Watergate and says he cannot foresee the Stormont executive sitting again.

Gerry Adams calls the events “grotesque”, “unbelievable” and “bizarre”.

October 14th: The executive, the North-South Ministerial Council, and the British-Irish Council are suspended. Direct rule from London is reimposed.

November: The BBC quotes a senior security force claiming the break-up of the alleged spy ring was assisted by a police agent “deep within the IRA”.


September 10th: Lawyers for the three defendants in the Stormontgate affair criticise the delay in the case as “inordinate” and threaten legal action if proceedings are not expedited.


February: Charges of possessing confidential or restricted documents are dropped. although the defendants still face up to 10 years in jail for having documents useful to terrorists.

July 19th: The North’s security minister says costs arising from the Stormontgate operation are likely to be around �30 million.

This includes the relocation of 454 prison staff, improved security for others whose details appeared in the documents seized and numerous stress compensation claims.

The UUP says the real cost could be �100 million.

August 1st: An investigation by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan finds that the Stormont raid was carried out in a proper manner and was not politically motivated, rejecting SF claims to the contrary.


December 8th: The North’s Public Prosecution Service drops the remaining charges against the defendants, saying it is “no longer in the public interest” to pursue them.

The PSNI confirms that its investigation is over, and nobody else is being sought.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says that the affair had caused “a lot of grief for no prosecutions” and adds that it is “all very interesting”.

December 16th: Sinn F�in expels Mr Donaldson, saying he has admitted to being a British agent.

At which point we can add Denis Donaldson’s statement.. and the NIO’s statement

Going back to the Policing Ombudsman report, dated Sunday, 01 August 2004, the relevant sections to highlight are these –

Complaint One – The decision to search an office at Stormont

The Police Ombudsman said she has found no evidence to suggest that the search was politically motivated, or that it was designed to damage Sinn F�in and the peace process. The search of an office was part of normal police process following the search of a home in circumstances such as this. No proper consideration was given by police to the fact that they were searching the buildings of a legislative assembly. This was a significant failing by police.

Investigators established that PSNI officers had earlier that morning carried out searches at a number of locations in the greater Belfast area in relation to alleged serious criminal offences under investigation. As a result of those searches, the PSNI decided that it would also be necessary to search a specific desk used by one particular individual, and the area immediately adjacent to that desk, in the Sinn F�in offices at Parliament Buildings.

That decision to conduct the search at Stormont was made by the Detective Chief Superintendent who was overseeing the whole operation. An application was then made to a Justice of the Peace for the necessary warrant.

Police Ombudsman investigators have viewed the intelligence available to the PSNI that morning and have interviewed several people, including the officer who took the decision to initiate the search and the Justice of the Peace who granted the warrant under schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

“On the basis of the intelligence available, I can say that the Detective Chief Superintendent’s decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn F�in offices was reasonable, proportionate and legal. The Justice of the Peace who issued the warrant also thought this. We have not uncovered any evidence that the police decision-making was influenced inappropriately by any other officers within the PSNI, by politicians or by any other parties”, said Mrs O’Loan.

Another complaint covered in the report is one that has been repeated, as if it was an established fact, in recent days –

Complaint Two – The Presence of the Media

The Police Ombudsman’s investigators did not uncover any evidence that police alerted the media to the imminent search at Stormont.

While an Ulster Television camera crew was present and filmed the early stages of the search operation, the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found no evidence that the broadcasters had been pre-warned by any police officer. UTV has confirmed that they did not receive advance notice from the police.

All of which brings us back to the decision by the PPS not to proceed with the charges against the three individuals arrested at that time.. and to the issue of whose interest is being served.. and makes the Irish Times’ Gerry Moriarty’s previous comments on this appear ever more prescient

�There are other conspiracy theories out there but no definitive explanations. It all rather reeks to high heaven, doesn�t it? Lots of questions, no real answers. People will believe whom they want to believe. The Public Prosecution Service talks about its version of the public interest but here it would seem genuinely in the public interest that the service should lift the veil and reveal more.�

Update Since those who will believe what they want to believe will continue to repeat their preferred conspiracy theories regardless, I’ll note the comments from the BBC’s Brian Rowan – from a report on the BBC website that’s since been edited –

Security editor Brian Rowan said he believed Mr Donaldson was not the mole whose information prompted the police�s Special Branch to act in the Stormontgate affair.

�My understanding is that the information that Special Branch had on that alleged IRA intelligence-gathering operation came from another source – not from Denis Donaldson and not from any of the others charged in connection with that case,� he said.

  • Mickhall

    Few people are men of steel if the circumstances and situation goes against them. As upsetting as it is to say it, in his own way Donoldson is a victim of the British continued presence in Ireland. Having said this the psychology of this man and those long term informers like him is very puzzling for me. After his initial fall from grace, why continue climbing the greasy pole in SF. There must have been a time down the years when he could have walked away. Is it the small village mentality of Irish republicanism,[this is not an insult] even when these people are working against the movement they cannot bear to be apart from it. Freddie was much the same as Donaldson in this. I also found it interesting that he described himself as a British Agent in his Statement and not a tout or informer, which is the daily type of language he would normally have used. Seems he is attempting a bit of ego greasing here.

    As to SF itself, its members must be in a state of shock, although the leaderships claim to infallibility made with its continuous talk to the membership of “remember you can trust this leadership” was always going to be a case of a motor-way pile up about to happen. It is difficult not to see all this as part of an onslaught against SF north and south, thus we can expect more revelations about touts/whatever in the near future. That SFs leadership failed to be open and clean their stables after Freddie was unmasked was a major error; and it is difficult to see how they can rectify this now. If they had none so they could have forewarned the membership and public about the probability of more such revelations to come. instead they circled the wagons and turned inward as is their way.

    The problems with the Adams leadership, rightly or wrongly is no one but the most gullible or ultra loyal Adamsites believe much of what they say. It is interesting that both of the major touts have come from the generation who joined the PRM in the early 1970s. They both came from Belfast and new Gerry Adams extremely well, can we draw any conclusions about how those who know the man best feel about him. Who knows, but what it does mean is a new layer of leadership needs to be fast tracked to the top of SF if it is to have half a chance or riding out and emerging victorious from the coming storms. Yes the British will still spy upon them and attempt to buy them, but the newcomers will not have an army history, thus there will not be the same connotations in the public mind with touting. They will simply be passing on political gossip. The problem is not only does SF’s secretive, conservative and undemocratic nature makes it an unattractive place for gobby youngsters first entering the political fray, especially if they have no Republican history within their families. It also all but encourages the British to recruit disaffected or vulnerable individuals within SF as touts. In a ‘normal’ democratic party, what goes on behind the scenes is an open secret to the media thus eventually the public. All this secrecy on the part of the Adamsites leaves them wide open to be infiltrated. What is the good of security services running agent if the info they gain is common knowledge anyway. For SF openness is the only way they can defeat this problem, they are after all a legal political party! SFs double headed policies on illegal drugs and homosexuality must make many youngsters, particularly in the urban areas feel it is part of the problem not a solution. Perhaps there is a clue here also in the Donaldson case.

    Finally I would just add this, no one should be surprised the British State has implanted touts at all levels within PRM, SF is slightly different and as a legal Party should not be infiltrated by PSNI special branch if it is not acting in an illegal way. Having said this I doubt there is a major political party in the western world [and beyond] in which MI6/5 do not have what they refer to as agents of influence. That Dennis Donaldson who in all probability joined the PRM to fight the injustices which he experienced in his daily life growing up in 1960s NI, has ended up betraying all he once believed is not the fault of SF, nor its leadership, but the evil, insidious presence of the British State in Ireland.

    A sordid and sad business.

  • I can see some of where you are coming from Mick

    That said this man continued to be a paid spy and informer for 20 years.

    He walked into work every morning knowing that he was betraying his comrades, family and the struggle itself.

    He was still able to look Republicans in the eyes for 20 years

    That is the unforgiveable part!

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘That SFs leadership failed to be open and clean their stables after Freddie was unmasked was a major error; and it is difficult to see how they can rectify this now.’

    Mick are you stating that you believe SF knew Donaldson was an informer and that they are leaving other formers in situ?

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    The points to be emphasised in this comprehensive round up, I feel, are the failure by the Police Ombudsman to find any evidence supporting claims that Operation Torsion had been politically motivated. Failure to find evidence is not the same as there being no political motivation behind the operation. I wonder what verdict would she have come to if she had been made aware that the only link to SF had been a British agent working as a SF administrator.

    I read the IT editorial this morning and found myself wondering what planet the editor is on, given the editorial rather than focusing on what appears to be a fairly clearcut case of a bloodless coup carried out by the PSNI special branch the leader tries to paint Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams as liars.

    It presents Nuala O’Loan’s report as if it were an exoneration of the PSNI when it was anything but. See above. This is futher PD back pedalling. The Irish Times is so intent on seeing its PD fellow travellers continue in government, rather than SF, that it will contort Operation Torsion into an IRA operation. Sure the IRA engineered this in order to bring down the institutions and get SF blamed for it.

  • More good analysis from Slugger. Myself, I’d have to concur with Bertie. This is about as bizarre as it gets.

  • Pat, your leadership knew about Freddie Scap for years before he was finally exposed – not by your leadership, but by the media. What does that tell you? How can you trust any of them? If you think Donaldson was the only one, and that the leadership is not aware of any of them, you are quite foolish.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Given the outing of Donaldson it is now quite obvious that the police force were aware what was in the SF offices at Stormont.

    Why then the very public raiding of the offices that precipitated the downfall of the Assembly?

  • John Lecarre

    OK so this is the deal: Denis Donaldson says the spyring was a fabrication. The cops insist stolen documents were recovered. So, if they existed, where did the documents come from? Was Donaldson instructed by his handlers to plant documents and/or fabricate the ‘spyring’?

  • Brian Boru

    John Lecarre, I understand that the documents were found at Donaldson’s home (Saturday View RTE Radio 1 today). This would support the theory that they were planted.

  • Acer

    This surely exposes Adams’ incompetence as a leader. For the third time in four years, Adams has been shown not have a clue as to what is going on around him, surely an essential qualification for any leader. First, in 2001, it was Niall Connolly. Adams was forced to admit that he had no idea that for 5 years Connolly had been the “official” SF representative in Cuba. Who sent Connolly? Why was Adams not told? How did Connolly convince the Cuban authorities (not an easy bunch to convince) that he was official? What did Connolly do for 5 years? He must have reported to someone in SF: all we know is that it certainly was not the party leader. Then Steaknife, and now Donaldson. All sorts of gloss can, and is, being put on how “close” either was to the “leadership” (aka Gerry Adams). What cannot be denied is that both were “Adams men”, that he knew them very well, and trusted them completely. If this was any other party leader he would be gone. Supposing Bertie Ahern’s office manager was a twenty year veteran British spy, or Ian Paisley’s was a twenty year republican mole, would either survive 5 more minutes as leader (assuming they had not done the decent thing and resigned immediately)?

  • elfinto

    It seems that there was a PSNI spy-ring in operation at Stormont. The PSNI effectively collapsed the Executive. A clear cut example of political policing. SF were well and truly stitched up. Ironically, this enhances the dubious credentials of the leadership. I’d now be more inclined to listen to their denials about the Northern Bank raid.

  • John Lecarre

    Today’s editorial in the Belfast Telegraph states:
    “Now we know. There was a spy ring at Stormont, but it was one controlled by the intelligence services, not Sinn Fein.”


    At the moment isn’t this all unproven? The official line from the PSNI and NIO remains that Sinn Fein were running a spy ring.

    Even if Donaldson was a British agent does this automatically mean there wasn’t a spy ring ran by Sinn Fein?

    Denis Donaldson says he was a British agent. Usually this would be referred to as a claim – “He claims he was an agent”.

    Why is it being reported by all media outlets as fact? Do we actually know for sure that he was a British agent? It is rare that the Northern Irish media take the word of shinner, sorry ex-shinner, as fact.

  • Brendan, Belfast

    Sinn Fein now say that the Donaldson revelation shows that there was never a Republican spy ring. How has this been proven? because Donaldson has said so in his statement and he was a Brit in the end so he musta known?

    Has it occured to anyone that Donaldson may be telling a little untruth because it suits him? He was capable of touting on his mates for thirty years after all.

    Lucky for Dennis he wasn’t uncovered a few short years ago……….

  • Henry94


    The spy-ring charges were all about Donaldson. he was the number one defendent and the allegation was that documents were found in his house. These alleged documents were the alleged reason for the alleged relocation of hundereds of people.

    Now we know he was a British agent all along.

    At the very least I don’t see how the spy-ring allegations can continue to be taken seriously.

    The British story as I understand it now is that they had two agents, one conducting the spy-ring and the other telling them about it.

    Of course there are those who willbelieve anything rather than believe the consistent claim of Sinn fein that there was no spy-ring but even their credulity must be stretched beyond breaking point.

  • John Lecarre

    Henry94 said: “The British story as I understand it now is that they had two agents, one conducting the spy-ring and the other telling them about it.”

    Who is saying this? Who is telling this ‘British story’?

  • Mickhall really excellent comment.

    Oliver Crowell – I read the IT editorial this morning – its off the wall. i had to check the date on the paper thinking that it was last weeks. anybody who hasn’t read it should do so. I am not even sure what they were trying to imply

  • Henry94

    John L

    Who is telling this ‘British story’?

    The BBC. Who else? Passing on security source in the usual brethless and self-important way without subjecting it to any questioning whatsoever. The usual standard.

    Security editor Brian Rowan said he believed Mr Donaldson was not the mole whose information prompted the police’s Special Branch to act in the Stormontgate affair.

    “My understanding is that the information that Special Branch had on that alleged IRA intelligence-gathering operation came from another source – not from Denis Donaldson and not from any of the others charged in connection with that case,” he said.

    That clearly implies that one agent was doing the sppying and another agent was spying on him doing it.

  • scap

    The ‘two agents’ line sounds like a classical psychological operation designed to sow further paranoia in republican ranks.

    Perversely, I think that this episode will actually strenghten Sinn Féin. The DPP, the PSNI, the International Monitoring Commission and large sections of the media have all been discredited by this affair.

    Just wait until it gets out that MI5 did the Northern Bank job.

  • elfinto

    Seeing that iconic photograph of Bobby Sands with Denis Donaldson highlights what a truly despicable character Donaldson is. Only five years after his friend and comrade laid down his life for the republican cause, Donaldson took the 30 pieces of silver from the Special Branch. As Mick Hall said, there must have been many occasions when he could hae walked away but instead he chose to continue with his treachery. He can count himself lucky that Scap has ‘retired’.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mr Cromwell:

    I read the IT editorial this morning and found myself wondering what planet the editor is on, given the editorial rather than focusing on what appears to be a fairly clearcut case of a bloodless coup carried out by the PSNI special branch

    The source for this claim is a British agent making a statement to try to save his skin. Why would you trust him ?

    The SF line, which I see duly being repeated by Pat and others, is to state as fact that the PSNI raided SF’s offices knowng about what was in them (the source for this being a paid British tout who is currently trying to buy himself off the hook by handing over details of his operations to SF). Is it really the case that the PSNI would conduct a raid which knowingly lead to a highly-placed mole being compromised ?

    Why would the PSNI Special Branch deliberately risk unwanted attention by conducting a raid to “expose” something they set up themselves ? Would they really pursue their supposed desire to kill the Executive to the point where they put their own existence at risk ? They must have guessed that such an operation would lead to Tony Blair demanding an explanation for their behaviour, and possibly working to curtail their efforts or even get them wound up. Gerry Adams himself does not believe that Blair knew about the faked Stormontgate business : ” “I would be shocked if for one moment I thought that the British Prime Minister was part of any plot to take down a power-sharing executive he had spent a considerable amount of time along with the rest of us putting in place..”.

    My opinion ? There is another mole. Two different parts of British intelligence were behind this and they have tripped over themselves badly. I think the PSNI genuinely believed they had uncovered an actual SF spy operation.

    [I’m relieved that Sinn Fein are now conceding that a spy ring existed, even though it was not theirs. Which leads to the question – who else in SF knew what Donaldson was doing ? – there were two other people arrested. Why did no-one raise the issue with the party leadership ?]

  • The beleagured Brits dropped the Storemont spy case because they didn’t want to expose their covert asset in Sinn Fein.

    Well Sluggiepoos, the tout is unmasked. The Crown no longer has anything impeding the prosecution of those vile blackguards that preyed upon the sacred institutions of Storemont. So book ’em all, Dano.

    Unless……. say that when you get really deep down into the case …….. there is no deep down.

    Connect the dots …….

  • Crataegus

    United Irelander

    The point is no matter what way you look at it Tony’s lot have responsibility.

    If a British plots to do some political engineering (whatever the intention) then it is the government who has to answer.

    If it is rogue elements then the British Government should ensure they are brought back into line.

    If it is a massive screw up then guess who? British Government’s responsibility,

    Entertaining as it is we don’t need to try and guess what happened as we are simply shooting in the dark. We just don’t have the necessary information.

    This is not an isolated incident it is simply the worst in a series and I think there is enough to at least ask is someone is at their work? Until we get to the bottom of this the innocent are implicated by association.

    At best this is utter incompetence, however it could be a lot more serious

  • Crataegus

    Betty Boo

    Well fed but very long day doing battle with Christmas lights. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-779682651375764094&q=Christmas+lights

    In my opinion the timing of all this is deliberate. Parliament is in recess and Christmas is coming. I imagine they hope that after a couple of brain deadening weeks of Christmas pud and turkey sandwich we will all have forgotten. It will be difficult to maintain the relevance of this.

    In addition they would expect SF to fall on SDLP over police boards and SDLP responding with ya boo can’t trust you etc etc. While we here squabble and try blaming ourselves they walk away laughing.

    It must be in the interest of every political party here that the truth be out, be they right or wrong in the assumptions they have made. I don’t expect them all to pursue the exact same course but there should be unity of purpose. If there is not and some are not seeking answers then something is very wrong.

    What can we do? Keep our sights on the government and

    1 Ensure your political representatives know your views and are prodded to take an interest.
    2 Write to the letters columns in the press, entries on web sites blogs etc. Create as much publicity as possible.
    3 Write to members of opposition parties in Westminster who have a reputation for being able to bite. Someone may run with it.
    4 Write to the dissident Labour MPs.

    This has the potential to do damage, but frankly I don’t see our local politicians making much of a go of it. Some will go through the motions but that is as far as it will go unless say the Conservatives decide to run with it or some journalists, but difficult for journalists to keep this fresh.

    I hope that politicians here feel a sense of outrage and for once bury the hatchet. If a sense of purpose develops then we are in a different ball game.

    Must to bed, lunch with mumsie tomorrow, another long day.

    I would welcome any suggestions.

  • The only thing that we can know is that there is a hell of a lot more going on than we will ever know!

  • Betty Boo

    No wonder you had to struggle with those Christmas lights.

    Funny that you mentioned the timing because I thought as well that it was a bit odd. They had all seasons for the better part of three years but choose to drop the case against the accused spy ring just before Christmas, knowing that there would be not much time left to get all excited about and no time to form a coalition of parties and people against this very violating intervention.

    By experience I don’t trust any politician, no matter what shape or form. And from what I can see so far, party politics take always presidency over anything else. Therefore I wouldn’t leave it to politicians or parties, although it would make a nice change for once with Christmas, the new year, if the could agree for this one time to take this on together beyond their usual kindergarten slagging matches, because they leave us all in the dumps.
    (I shouldn’t write in such long sentences after only one coffee)
    What I’m trying to say is, that party political gain grabbing leaves every area and each community fending for themselves without any proper representation. This representation itself has now being portrayed as puppets on a string. You wonder, what was whispered in certain ears and which fears and aspiration were created just to keep them nicely apart. Divide and conquer (and rule).
    I would like to hope that politicians of all colors can leave their differences and crunches behind them, to separate themselves from this malicious interference. It does not speak good for any of them.
    But I would not bet on it.
    So what are the possibilities we have at hand?
    Maybe the choice of Christmas works in our favor. Because it will take time to think, lots more coffee and plenty of good food. Sounds about right to me.
    So enjoy your mum’s cooking. Think of it as preparation.
    Oh ja, but don’t overeat. That counts as distraction.

  • seannaboy

    Hard to make nor tail of it all, ‘room of mirrors’ scenario i.e nothing is EVER as it seems. What DO we know? We know that the Policing Board are not in control of the police. Exit stage right Alex Attwood and co.

  • G.M.C.

    As these issues crop up again on this site, it seems little is new without a sitting parliament, and yet again I write the Ferry workers are on strike in Eire. I have a serious post to come, views and experiences which I have posted before.

    You are aware, Craetaugus. Right enough. The Chrsitmas Lights are marvellous. Marvellous.

    I tried to find Amazing Christmas Skates on a search on Starware but I couldn’t find any though the search is intersting enough:

    Search swapping starts here for 2006 (this isn’t “common” or freaky).

    Anyway, I haven’t got keys for my jalopy should I be able to find it. Lost in the snow. Ice in the desert. Hoogs hoogs awop wop.

    Happy Christmas.

  • G.M.C.

    Do I mean where on earth is this great house to be seen, in Northern Ireland? I suppose that I do too.

    The police service on this issue was very safe, I discovered.

    I’m not posting now, it is more apparent unbelievable and so perhaps trivial or disturbingly provocative fodder of its unintelligibility or at least unlikeliness within real life: unbelievable midnight visits from a madman who has told you they will end the world in the past and now tell you I must take their cause, in order to stop the world being ended. Poor soul, poor recovering soul I hope.