By Ray O’Hanlon
The recent revelations of British intelligence’s operations aimed at Ireland, specifically the tapping of phone calls into and out of the Republic for a period of 10 years lasting up until 1998, will come as little surprise to those who take an interest in the doings of MI5, the British domestic intelligence service. MI5 has long been operating in Ireland — all of it. The only surprising aspect of the Channel 4 TV report was that it took so long for someone to look closely at the 13- story tower in the Cheshire countryside that now, according to the reports, turns out to have been a listening post used to tap the calls. The report was based on the work of Edinburgh-based investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, who provided the Echo with advice and assistance in our recent two-part report on British spying operations in the U.S. against Irish Americans.
The phone tapping matter is being raised in London by Ireland’s ambassador in Britain, Ted Barrington, while the British are saying little or nothing on the matter right now. No surprise there. What is interesting about this latest report, however, is the reaction to it. There has been an air of tacit acceptance over the years in the Republic regarding MI5 activities on both sides of the border.
Indeed, it extended beyond mere acceptance in some quarters when the reason for the actions of the spy agency had to do with terrorist threats to both the Irish and British states. But this time there is a whiff of economic espionage to spice up the pot and the result is an angry swipe from a Celtic Tiger, which now sees itself as having much to lose in a world where multinational corporations must be hooked like wild trout on a fly — but you’re not the only angler working the deep pool.
Readers will be doubtless happy to learn that Ed Moloney’s door is still on its hinges. The Sunday Tribune Northern Editor was expecting a visit from the boys in bottle green after a Belfast court ordered him to hand over his interview notes regarding William Stobie, the man recently arrested in connection with the 1989 murder of lawyer Pat Finucane. Moloney told "IF" that his lawyer had applied for the order to be overturned and as a hearing would now take several weeks to convene there was little chance of any developments in the immediate future.
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"Developments," in this context, might have included a raid on Moloney’s house, seizure of assets, etc. "It’s a stay of execution and whatever happens next becomes a political decision," Moloney told "IF" from his Bronx hideout, where he is spending a vacation not quite as carefree as he originally planned. Moloney is at least relieved that he won’t be stepping off the plane and straight into the hands of the North 5-0 once the hollier is over.
He is still of the opinion that the arrest of Stobie was a card being played as opposed to the end result of a bona fide criminal investigation. Moloney reckons that the arrest was designed to make the Finucane case sub judice until the Patten Commission into the RUC winds up and rides off into the sunset.
JFK a regular Joe
John F. Kennedy Jr. was, to twist the songline around a bit, the Johnny we partly knew. For star-spotting types, Kennedy was a 10-out-of-10. But actually spotting him wasn’t that hard to do. The reason for this was simple. He never tried to hide. He was going to live a normal life, not by secreting himself away from the public gaze but by becoming part of the woodwork. As a result, a lot of people in New York have a personal JFK Jr. story.
One of the better ones to fall "IF’s" way in the aftermath of the Martha’s Vineyard tragedy concerned a Manhattan street sighting during a thunder storm. This woman was watching the weather from her midtown office when she noticed an elderly woman trying to stop a taxicab on the street outside. She was having a hard time. Stopping a herd of buffalo would be easier than snagging a cab once it starts raining in Manhattan. The woman, according to the window witness — by now joined by several office colleagues — was approached by a young man who game striding up to her. He had an umbrella and he held it over her head. The man, quite a bit larger and with the air of authority needed at this crucial moment, managed to attract the eyes of a cab driver who pulled over. The grateful lady stepped into the cab. Just before he closes the door on her, the man hands her his umbrella. The man, of course, was John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. There were no cameras, no crowds to observe all this. Just an elderly woman finding the going tough and a regular guy doing the right thing — and then some.
Another, more recent encounter. A friend, out on the town about three weeks ago with his brother-in-law, a holy innocent who apparently wouldn’t recognize the pope at five yards. They were drinking in an Upper East Side bar. Brother-in-law gets chatting with another patron who’s watching baseball on the TV. Brother-in-law eventually comes back to friend. "Hey, I was chatting to this guy over there and he thinks the Yankees are going to win the pennant this year." The guy "over there" — you know who — had just experienced one of those rare moments in his life when he had a normal conversation with someone who hadn’t a clue who he was.
Even Mo Mowlam has a JFK story. She recalled, during her visit to New York last week, meeting JFK Jr. at the offices of his magazine, "George." Kennedy introduced Mo to his entire staff, who had gathered in a room to listen to her latest thoughts on the peace process.
"It’s not often that you meet with a politician, or a possible future politician, who sets out the parameters for a discussion and then shuts up," Mowlam told "IF." Kennedy had allowed Mo to speak and his staff to ask questions. He himself remained quietly in the background. Mowlam was impressed by Kennedy’s style and, as she was keen to point out, the result of his low-key presence was a "vibrant, exciting meeting." Just like the man’s short life.