Category: Archive

McGuinness biographers arrested after bugging leaks

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Selected portions of the transcripts were printed in the London Times newspaper and the Belfast-based Irish News and are intended to be included in an updated paperback version of an unauthorized and generally hostile biography of McGuinness.
They include phone conversations between him and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, and the British prime minister’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, and the former Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam.
A 48-year-old former member of the RUC special branch is being questioned about the leaking of the transcripts. The two authors, husband-and-wife team Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, were arrested, questioned and released on bail.
McGuinness said he “doesn’t recognize the accuracy” of the transcripts, but didn’t question their authenticity. He said they show British intelligence continued to spy on republicans while Sinn Fein focused on the peace process.
“The fact that my phone was bugged, and that elements within the British military establishment were bugging my phone even when I was in government, is disgraceful,” said McGuinness at a Sinn Fein press conference on April 30.
“It is obvious this was taking place when people like Gerry Adams and myself and others within the Sinn Fein leadership were doing everything in our power to ensure the success of the peace process.
“I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect that someone in the positions that we [McGuinness and fellow Sinn Fein minister Bairbre de Brun] were holding could have privacy around essential telephone conversations to ensure the success of that peace process.”
One of the transcripts is alleged to have been recorded on 16 July 2001 – one day after a failed bid to form a power-sharing executive at Stormont. The conversation took place between Martin McGuinness and Powell.
McGuinness warns Powell that the mood within republicanism is “very, very bad. I have to say that … there is a view that the British government have taken a strategic lurch in the direction of old approaches.”
McGuinness tells Powell: “I think that people are of a view that there was an attempt to shaft Sinn Fein and that what was going on was totally and absolutely outside the terms of the agreement.”
Later in the exchange, as Powell and McGuinness discuss ongoing difficulties in the process, an obviously frustrated McGuinness says: “They [the unionists] are not interested in the all-Ireland ministerial council and the like… All you have to do is listen to William Thompson last night on BBC2.”
“Agh, he’s an ass,” Powell replies on the tape. “Well it doesn’t matter,” McGuinness says. “He may be an ass, but there are a lot of other asses around him… like Willie Ross…”. “Quite a lot” agrees Powell, laughing.
“…Jeffrey Donaldson, Roy Beggs, Clifford Forsyth, Rev. Martin Smyth…”, says McGuinness. “Please don’t repeat all the names,” says Powell.
Another conversations features Mowlam telling McGuinness of her battle to stop the prime minister sacking her. She explains that she has been called over to London to meet Blair and that she fears he wants to get out of her job.
Expressing Sinn Fein’s concern at the leaked documents on Wednesday, McGuinness told the press conference that “these documents are clearly special branch documents … it is obvious that this system has been spying on the nationalist community and its the political representatives for over 30 years.
“They’ve bugged our cars, they’ve bugged our homes, they’ve bugged our offices and the information that has been obtained has been provided to British agents and through them to unionist death squads, who have killed hundreds of nationalists throughout the North.”
McGuinness revealed that “while John Reid was the British secretary of state I remember on one occasion in his little drawing room at Hillsborough Castle, I asked him directly – ‘Have you authorized the bugging of my phone?’ And he told me directly, ‘No.'”
The Sinn Fein politician added: “I believe my phone is still being listened to. I believe that because there are people within British intelligence services who, in the course of some 25 years, have not been able to accept the implications of the peace process.
“After all, these are the people who controlled our lives for some 25 years – the securocrats at the Northern Ireland Office, supported by the British intelligence services – they controlled every aspect of our lives.
“There is very deep resentment within those intelligence services that republicans have – through the mandate that we’ve been given and the support of the people – found themselves at the heart of government,” McGuinness said.
“And they’re opposed to that; they’re in sympathy with rejectionist unionists. So the war is not over for the securocrats, and I believe that the publication of this material is quite deliberate, quite malicious and clearly designed to undermine the Good Friday agreement and the peace process.”
A spokesman for Tony Blair said they did not comment on intelligence matters or on leaked documents. He said Jonathan Powell had worked very hard on the peace process and continued to put in a huge amount of effort.
The anti-agreement Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, said the supposed comments showed “how low Downing Street is prepared to stoop to curry favor with those who have been responsible for the destruction of lives and property in Northern Ireland.”

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