By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Sinn Fein is demanding answers from the British government following the discovery last week of military intelligence files naming more than 400 people in an Orange Hall in Country Antrim.
Six people are being questioned by the RUC after the find.
Most of those named in the files live in the greater Belfast and South Armagh areas. The house of one of those named, Sinn Fein councilor Sean Hayes, was attacked over the weekend when ball bearings smashed through windows. The West Belfast home of another second man whose file was discovered was badly damaged in an arson attack.
The discovery, republicans say, is evidence of collusion between members of the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries. It’s believed the files contained photographs, addresses, phone numbers, car registration numbers and physical descriptions of more than 400 people.
The papers were found stuffed under a staircase inside an Orange Hall in the County Antrim village of Stoneyford, a village where, republican sources say, a Catholic bar-owner has been subjected to a campaign of hate from a Orange Volunteer leader who was among those arrested.
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The discovery was described by British military officials as "a very serious breach of security" in their intelligence division. The files are believed to include high-level classified information, suggesting that their origin is MI5’s anti-terrorist division and not the locally recruited Royal Irish Regiment.
Some of the details were compiled as recently as 1997, three years after the IRA’s first cease-fire, and are said to include 70 high-quality photographs of nationalists.
The de facto admission by British military sources that their agents are passing up-to-date intelligence to loyalist bombers and gunmen has infuriated Sinn Fein officials, who are both demanding answers and that those identified in the files be informed of the nature of the details within.
Three men have already been charged in connection with the RUC clampdown, including twin brothers Paul Arthur and Mervyn John Armstrong, both students from Dunadry, Co. Antrim. They were charged with possession of an assault rifle and ammunition.
Paul Armstrong is also charged with the possession of the documents. A third man was charged with conspiracy and with membership of the Orange Volunteer Force. Stuart Alexander Wilson, from Glenavy, became only the second man ever to be charged with membership of the OVF.
Brid Rodgers of the SDLP welcomed the clampdown, saying loyalist paramilitaries were intent on wrecking political progress, as did the PUP’s David Ervine, who’s received death threats from them because of his support for the Good Friday agreement.
"They are mad as a crowd of hatters and high on God and dope," Ervine said.
The RUC officers involved in the crackdown seized an assault rifle, handgun and pipe bombs. There have been more than 200 attacks on Catholics so far this year in an upsurge of loyalist violence blamed on two dissident groups, the Red Hand Defenders and Orange Volunteers.