By Ray O’Hanlon
Recent revelations that British Intelligence has been merrily eavesdropping on all manner of Irish electronic gabbing by means of a top-secret communications tower in deepest Cheshire sent a ripple of discomfort through the corridors of, eh, power in Dublin. But the matter seemed to fade rather quickly into the ether. Ireland’s ambassador in London, Ted Barrington, was assigned the task of raising the matter with the British, but so far the ripples along the Thames have been no more than the motion one would expect from a paddling duck. Gunboat diplomacy, it seems, is not the Irish way.
Not quite so content to let the matter drop has been Sinn Féin TD Caoimghín O Caoláin. O Caoláin has been something of a lone voice in the Dáil on the issue, pressing Foreign Minister David Andrews for a response to the British spying antics. He has another question for the minister when the Dáil returns from its summer holidays this week. O Caoláin also asked for an explanation from Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam during the recent British-Irish Interparliamentary Body get together in Cambridge.
Mo, to everyone’s surprise, was uncharacteristically circumspect. "The British government does not comment on such matters," said Mo, who then went on to say that she herself was not permitted to reply anyway. O’Caoláin came back asking her if she recognized the "serious international implications" of the surveillance operation and that the operation constituted a violation of the civil rights of "countless numbers of people." He also wanted to know if surveillance was still going on and, if so, would the British government put a stop to it.
Mowlam, now well into fight ’em on the beaches mode, replied: "No matter what way you couch your question I am not permitted to respond. I apologize to the deputy."
At this juncture, Tory MP Michael Mates, also at the gathering, was heard to say, "Don’t apologize." O Caoláin is interpreting Mo’s reticence as "affirmation that what is already exposed is continuing."
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While much of Irish officialdom seems to be sanguine about the entire affair, the Irish magazine Phoenix, like O Caoláin, has been making noise. A recent issue described the spying as "an act of political and economic espionage on a grand scale." Phoenix continued: "Quite apart from security and political implications, the scope for economic damage to Irish interests is vast. . . . So why is everyone in authority shrugging their shoulders about it?" Why indeed?
Ed on the attack
It’s a race to see who will end up behind bars first, Ed Moloney or Gen. Augusto Pinochet. United Kingdom courts are currently deciding the fate of both. The charges are rather different, of course, and Moloney at least is not burdened by either a Spanish extradition request or the accusations of many accusing him of murder. Either way, though, both men are ready to fight their respective corners. Pinochet is describing himself as "the only political prisoner in England." If Moloney is hauled off he’ll be merely joining a crowd in the wee North, a place where political prisoners, both genuine and merely self-described, are two-a-penny.
Moloney, meanwhile, has taken aim in recent days at one of Pinochet’s best pals, Margaret Thatcher. In a recent story for the Sunday Tribune, Moloney, citing "sources with a close knowledge of the working of British intelligence," wrote of a British military intelligence unit known as the FRU, or Force Research Unit. The FRU, Moloney wrote, is now being "accused of colluding" in the murder of Pat Finucane. He also described the FRU as the string pullers for UDA double agent Brian Nelson. Moloney continued: "During the period when Brian Nelson worked as an FRU agent and Pat Finucane was killed, the British politician who showed the keenest interest in FRU’s activities was the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Described as ‘an intelligence animal’ by those who saw her in action in those days, Thatcher was a frequent visitor to Army headquarters in Northern Ireland and soaked up intelligence matters ‘like a sponge.’ "
Moloney’s source concluded: "If Margaret Thatcher were sitting down at HQNI and asked questions, she would get all the answers she wanted. There were times when she would even ask the identities of sources, and even though it was against the rules, she would be told. That’s how interested she was." Moloney let the hare sit there. The follow-up questions rather speak for themselves anyway.
The Irish Times was less than impressed with the recent visit to California by President Mary McAleese. Though McAleese shook hands with several of the political big guns in the state, including Gov. Gray Davis, the Times reckoned that McAleese’s schedule over seven days was "light" and that the overall theme of the visit was not "clearly defined." Quite simply, the Times felt that Mary was not quite as prepared as some of her hosts, particularly Davis, in terms of delivering substantial speeches grounded in detailed research.
Times reporter Elaine Lafferty was clearly worried for Mary M: "But without a more ambitious agenda of her own for what she actually wishes to convey, without more stringent reaching and harder work, without an iconic ideology based on more than, in Woody Allen’s words, ‘showing up,’ this president will fail to fulfill the promise of her charisma, her intellect, and the soundness of character that moves and impresses her audiences, but leaves them hungry." Oops! Good thing for Mary M. that she never tried out as a hackette for the Old Biddy of D’Olier Street.
Collins grave restored
"IF" was glad to hear that someone did indeed take a scrubbing brush and soap to the grave of Michael Collins in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. An eejit who obviously likes taking advantage of the inability of the dead to reply wrote "Patriot Turned Traitor" at the foot of the grave recently. In the meantime, "IF" was horrified to learn of a separate dead-of-night attack on the 116-acre cemetery by vandals who destroyed 50 headstones and caused an estimated £150,000 worth of damage. The attack, according to an Irish Independent report, was virtually identical to a rampage three years ago. There are 1.2 million people buried in Glasnevin. If only they could really say boo.