In the Irish Times today, Vincent Browne criticises Bertie Ahern for adopting the “move along now” response to the Stormont spy-ring case, and takes a swing at some others in the media too. He’s right that it’s a strange move given the Taoiseach’s previously acknowledged incomprehension about the case. Unfortunately, in Vincent’s conspiracy theory, which he’s promoted on a few occasions recently, not only does he fail to mention that others, including SF, have adopted that “move along now” response, but he has his bare facts wrong.In the article Vincent Browne starts by describing the search of Denis Donaldson’s office in Stormont –
Just remember the bare facts of this case. On October 4th, 2002, members of the PSNI Special Branch “raided” the Sinn Féin 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 Féin 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 Féin 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.
Vincent has previously described that search of Donaldson’s office as inexplicable [I’m paraphrasing].. but that’s because he has his timing wrong.
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 Féin 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 Féin offices at Parliament Buildings.
The search of Donaldson’s office was, leaving aside for the minute his role in the spy-ring – and whose instructions he was following – the correct procedure to follow after finding documents in his house. It would have been incorrect, and perhaps evidence of a political bias, to search all of Sinn Féin’s offices in Stormont, although as the Ombudsman report also points out – “No proper consideration was given by police to the fact that they were searching the buildings of a legislative assembly.”
The Ombudsman’s report also dealt with Vincent Browne’s reference to a photo-opportunity –
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.
Once the police arrived at Stormont, and since a UTV camera crew was present, the rest of the media would have been negligent not to get there as quickly as possible.
For anyone not getting it yet, the role of Donaldson is central in this. If he was an agent-provocateur, as Vincent seems to believe, and as Sinn Féin claim, then the British Government are the main culprits in this and should be held to account.
If he wasn’t passing on information about the spy-ring, and became ensnared due to information from another source, as the BBC’s Brian Rowan, among others, believes then Sinn Féin are the main culprits and, likewise, should be held to account.
In either case, moving along is not of benefit to anyone else.. and neither is getting what facts we are aware of wrong.
Just to add, I tried to put together some facts around a more coherent, but loosely described, theory previously