From Socialist Voice, January 2006

Spooks, spies, and Special Branch

The peace process continues to be stalled as both governments attempt to put the pieces back together and get the Executive and Assembly running again. The British Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has stated that he intends cutting off the salary of members of the Assembly if the Executive and Assembly are not operational later this year.
    Unionists, in the form of Paisley’s DUP, are sitting tight, hoping that events will somehow go away. They continue to make forlorn calls for the SDLP to open up discussions on re-establishing the Executive without the Sinn Féin members. It is a sign of how out of touch they are with the reality of the nationalist community in the North: such a move would be the final nail in the coffin of an already weakened and vulnerable SDLP.
    The UUP under Reg Empey’s leadership started off shakily, falling in behind Paisley last summer during the marching season; but he subsequently managed to extricate himself from Paisley, using the violence of the Orange marches to push his agenda.
    The IRA wrong-footed all its critics when it finally completed its decommissioning of its weapons; yet we still had no movement from the Unionists or the British. What both the British and the Irish establishment want is the decommissioning of Republican politics, which is far more vital than the weapons.
    Just before Christmas three members of Sinn Féin who faced charges of spying on members of the police and prison service as well as Unionist politicians had the charges against them dropped. The raid on the Stormont offices of Sinn Féin was a highly publicised one, with television cameras following every move. All they managed to find was one computer disk. This raid led to the collapse of the Executive and the suspension of the Assembly.
    Then we had the bombshell. One of those arrested for spying at Stormont was a British agent who worked for the RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence for nearly three decades and was a senior member of Sinn Féin. Given the evidence that has now emerged, this is little short of a coup d’état by the British state. The overthrowing of democratic institutions by the secret police is breathtaking in its scope and raises profound questions about democracy. It also exposes the fact that the state itself is an active agent in the policies, operating in the interest of powerful economic forces.
    Shortly before the dropping of these charges we had the much-publicised raids on the homes of a number of Republicans in the south Down area in connection with the Northern Bank robbery at Christmas 2004.
    Denis Donaldson was outed by the PSNI Special Branch when they claimed the IRA was about to take action against him. This action by the Special Branch could only have been designed to split Republicans and sow maximum suspicion and division within their ranks. It follows on the outing of Freddie Scappaticci as a spy within the IRA leadership.
    The outing of Donaldson was quickly followed by more visits to the homes of senior republicans to inform them that their life was in danger from the IRA for spying for the British and the RUC Special Branch. Or maybe it was to tell them their television licence had expired; the damage would be done, the impression given; the result would be the same. Donaldson was now of little value to the Special Branch and was expendable.
    The outings would also provide renewed evidence that intelligence-gathering could show that the IRA was still active and armed, so undermining the decommissioning that took place over last summer.
    Then the Irish Special Branch got in on the act with clever leaking to the press that a member of the Sinn Féin leadership, Caoimhín Ó Caoláin, worked for them. All this was aimed at sowing maximum confusion and suspicion of the Sinn Féin leadership. Who could be trusted at the top of the Republican movement?
    Former members of the Republican movement writing in papers and appearing on radio and television, giving their tuppence-worth, are saying that they knew all along that this or that individual was a spy, speculating that surely there must be more spies at the top and so fuelling the tension and confusion. It is grist to the mill of the British security campaign against Republicans.
    Then we had the former Unionist MP John Laird naming people whom he believed to be prominent Sinn Féin and IRA members who are part of some great conspiracy to infiltrate and take over the media in the South. This felon-setter hides behind the privilege of the British House of Lords to leak Special Branch, military intelligence and political police reports. This is all aimed at breaking Republicans and imposing a solution that is in the interests of the British and the Irish establishment.
    The whole political process over the last decade was to bring Sinn Féin into the political process, and to emasculate and marginalise it, to confine any political settlement within the Six Counties, with minimal cross-border co-operation. The SDLP and UUP would be the permanent parties of government.
    But if Donaldson’s role was to steer Sinn Féin into the political wilderness, as the dissident republicans claim, he did a pretty poor job of it. Throughout all this the republicans have maintained their unity and kept their shape. This has clearly failed as a strategy, and Sinn Féin has grown in political strength, both north and south.
    Republicans need to maintain their unity, but they also need to reach out and attempt to get beyond the unionist establishment’s grip on the Protestant working class and to address their concerns. It is important to continue to point out that the Catholic-Nationalist community continues to suffer from the decades of unionist misrule; at the same time they need to address the fears, real or otherwise, of working-class Protestant communities who feel they have not got and are not getting a fair deal.
    It needs to be pointed out at every opportunity that the marginalisation and social deprivation in many working-class areas is a result of decisions made in London, which have been supported by all shades of unionism, and that it is local representatives going forward, making decisions and being accountable to the people that is the best way to undermine unionism. The challenge is whether republicans really take up the mantle of Tone and the democratic politics he espoused or whether they are nothing more than Catholic nationalists. The unionist establishment have as much contempt for working-class Protestants as they have for working-class Catholics.
    The Southern establishment is clearly concerned about Sinn Féin, with the three-and-a-half establishment parties in the Dáil all singing from the same hymn-sheet. There is a large element of class self-interest in their attitude to republicans. They know that political forces that have been dormant for decades have become activated, and that this is not good for them.
    Now is the time for the maximum unity of all those who wish to see a united state established and the building of an all-Ireland democracy, centred on the needs of working people and not tiny elites.

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